Perano's paradise

16:00, Nov 16 2012
Alan Perano
Welcome party: Alan Perano and his free-range emus welcome visitors to his Ocean Bay farm in Port Underwood.

Alan Perano of Ocean Bay in Port Underwood says he lives in a museum and works in a safari park.

The 74-year-old, who has travelled the world as a deep-sea diver, today farms emus, ostriches and other birds on a property crammed with marine memorabilia from whale bones to what could be a long-lost anchor from Abel Tasman's 1640 voyage to New Zealand.

A sign at the gate warns visitors "danger, birds may kick without warning, keep your distance".

Warning sign
Look out!: A sign at the entrance to Mr Perano’s land warns visitors about his big birds’ bad habits.

"He knows you are a female," Mr Perano says as ostriches Striker and Boulder greet this reporter by crouching, fluffing out their feathers then bouncing to full height in what is apparently a mating display.

The five ostriches on the farm are fenced because Mr Perano has learned by experience that they can be aggressive, knocking a victim to the ground with a well-aimed kick, then trampling on them.

Thirty-six emus are free range, mostly congregated on a hillside where they have eaten the ground back to dust. This is natural behaviour for the birds which in the wild survive on sand, Mr Perano says.


Alan Perano
Home on the range: Despite a diet of soaked peas, wheat and blood and bone, emus eat away at the soil on Alan Perano’s Ocean Bay property

Life is not this tough at Ocean Bay, where the birds are fed soaked peas, wheat, blood and bone and for ostriches only, a midday snack of chaff.

Mr Perano has run big birds for at least 15 years, originally sending surplus emus to specialist slaughterhouses in Levin and Gore.

"Nowadays I just give them a lifestyle," he said.

Using a long pole with an loop on the end, Mr Perano collects eggs without entering the paddock, which could annoy the birds. Each week he takes any eggs to a specialist bird-rearer in Grovetown near Blenheim for hatching in an incubator.

As many as 30 chicks are born each year and taken back to Ocean Bay or sold to ostrich and emu fanciers around New Zealand, Mr Perano says. So far this year only 27 eggs have been laid and not all would hatch.

He's cut back ostrich numbers, partly because of their habit of swallowing objects and suddenly dying for no obvious reason. Autopsies had discovered a range of items inside dead birds including cockle shells and even sunglasses.

In the winter, outside the mating period, Mr Perano takes his big birds down the road to the beach where emus enjoy a swim and ostriches paddle along the shoreline.

"After an hour or so I say ‘what do you reckon birds, shall we give it away'," Mr Perano says. "They know the tone of my voice and wander back up the drive."

Occasionally the Perano birds have grabbed headlines by running away, including his best emu breeders, Elvis and Priscilla, who are still on the loose.

Also ranging free on the property are up to 60 species of hens, peacocks, turkeys, ducks and geese. Most weeks he visits Picton and Blenheim with empty bird cages and comes home with them filled with unwanted birds, especially roosters which cannot be kept in town.

Mr Perano's Ocean Bay lifestyle is a long way from his career diving as deep as 370 metres, working at all the world's offshore petroleum fields with the exception of Cook Inlet in Alaska.

In the 1970s he was the engineering manager in charge of 260 staff of 26 nationalities in the Rotterdam office he established for a diving and salvage company.

His New Zealand work included diving the wreck of the Mikhail Lermontov at Port Gore in the Marlborough Sounds, to collect evidence for the then-Marlborough Harbour Board. The evidence remains top-secret even today. On paper he is the owner of this ship, confirmed by a letter from the Baltic Shipping Company, Mr Perano says.

Mr Perano still does private consulting, mostly calculations for coastal structures and designs, plus a bit of diving.

The low point of his career was suffering spinal bends when diving to 70m to attach a petroleum pipeline to a rig, which could have resulted in permanent paralysis from the waist down or death. Mr Perano let staff on the Indonesian rig know he was in trouble and they "plucked me from the water like a baby and lifted me onto the platform.

"I cried from the pain," recalls Mr Perano, who recovered after 36 hours in a decompression chamber.

Soon after this experience, he was back diving and also ran many marathons. He gained a masters degree in science and engineering and a qualification in subaqua medicine in the United States.

Supporting him in this multi-national lifestyle was Mr Perano's late wife Pam, who he says did a wonderful job raising their family of four children in many countries of the world.


The Marlborough Express