Two runaway emus became the toast of a suburban town on Tuesday morning, photographed like runway models as they strutted Waples Road and pecked at the lawns of bemused admirers.
But the tale has ended in tragedy, with one of the birds not surviving its surprise foray into suburbia in Farmborough Heights, near Wollongong.
WIRES was called in to capture the creatures after multiple residents spied them on Waples Road from about 9.30am.
They made their way downhill, their pictures appearing on social media as commentators likened them to "two middle aged women going for a walk and b----ing about their husbands" and pondered whether they could be headed for a snack at the local Foodworks.
A resident, Michelle Gollan, came outside to find the birds down the narrow side of her house at the bottom of Waples Road at Unanderra, surrounded by fences and walls with nowhere left to run. She said a man - understood to be the helper of a WIRES volunteer - lifted the birds into a car, which then departed.
"I came outside - I thought someone was trying to break into the house," she said.
"The man said, 'there's emus here'. I couldn't believe it. They were pretty big. One was kind of screaming. I just don't know how they would have gotten them in the car. I worried they would kick the driver. They're pretty strong animals."
WIRES has confirmed one of the birds has since died. The Mercury understands the creature's death has been attributed to stress.
The surviving bird remains in the care of WIRES.
The Mercury has been unable to confirm residents' reports that the birds escaped from a nearby property.
The birds had no bands on their legs to indicate any ownership.
A resident, Sarah, said she saw the birds behind the fence of a property on Farmborough Road on Monday.
"I go walking up there and saw them yesterday for the first time," she said. "I'd say maybe they are a new addition and they managed to get out."
According to NSW Environment, Energy and Science website, emus are protected under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 in NSW and it is illegal to take emus or their eggs from the wild.
Farmers need a licence to harvest emu meat, skin, oil, eggs or feathers, and anyone wanting to keep an emu as a pet must apply for an animal keeper license.
Waples Road resident Brett Anderson said it had been surprising to see the birds in such a built-up area.
"They were really friendly; they came within a couple of feet of us. They weren't scared of people," he said.