Nona is graceful and gorgeous. Aslan nervously watches her come hither gait from a promontory.
In 2006, Slavik Zournachyan, a resident of Haghtanak, a village in Armenia’s TavoushProvince, purchased six African ostriches. He wanted to launch an ostrich farm as part of the Millennium Challenge program.
“To be frank, raising ostriches is no longer a business for us. It’s just interesting. We keep them because it’s pleasurable. We weren’t successful breeding them,” says Slavik’s son Geghayr Zournachyan.
Slavik has since sold four of the ostriches. He keeps the remaining two, Aslan and Nona, in his cornelian cherry garden in Haghtanak.
Geghayr says the breeding ostriches is a great business. “First, ostrich meat is unique. It’s good for those seeking to decrease their cholesterol. It’s also expensive. It sells for 6-7,000 AMD per kilo in the market. $20-25 for young ostrich meat. The animal’s feathers can also be used. The nails are used to make shoes, and the leather is quite durable. You can get 40-45 kilos of meat from a young ostrich, under one year old. Each of our ostriches weigh from 100-120 kilos and can provide 60 kilos of good meat. They’re fifteen years-old and can live up to 70. Their eggs taste just like chicken eggs. The calories content is high. It’s an interesting experience to eat the eggs. The shells are used to make unique souvenirs. Females lay one egg every two or three days,” says Geghayr.
After climbing up the road, we found ourselves in Slavik’s garden. In the distance, a grove of cypress trees can be seen. “My father planted those trees,” says Geghayr. The ostriches live in a nearby structure. Geghayr warns us about the possibility of ostrich attacks. He doesn’t escort us to the building.
There’s a small lake in the garden. “We use the water for irrigation,” says Geghayr. The cornelian cherry tree garden is about three hectares in size. Geghayr says they will plant another three hectares.
The ostriches are nowhere to be seen. Geghayr softly whistles. Seconds later, as if by magic, one of the ostriches appears on a hill. It’s black, with a white tail. There’s a small patch of grey downy fur on its backside.
“It’s Aslan,” Geghayr points out, telling me to keep my distance from the male ostrich. “They kick and are very dangerous,” he says.
Aslan, assuming a proud and arrogant poise, descends to the lake. Nona isn’t around. Aslan approaches the wall on which Geghayr and I are standing. The ostrich gazes at Aslan with his large and black eyes. It’s as if Aslan is waiting for Geghayr to say something. The animals’ small head is perched atop its long and slender white neck. I could swear I saw audacity in Aslan’s eyes.
“The male bird’s aggressive nature comes from protecting its family. This is Aslan’s territory and he watches over it,” says Geghayr, adding that the bird patrols the area like a soldier.
“We used to get robbed on this three-hectare garden. We never had a guard. Since getting the ostriches eight years ago, not a stick of wood has been stolen. The ostriches scare people. The birds have given a few a good beating. They even hit me. They only respect my father. We have nothing bad to say about the ostriches,” says Geghayr.
After hanging around for a few minutes, Aslan gets bored and returns to his territory in the cypress trees. Nona never showed up. I really wanted to see the female, believing she’s be more beautiful.
“Nona has different feathers. She’s grey and a bit shorter than Aslan. But she’s extremely clever,” Geghayr tells me. Noticing that I’m still looking towards the cypress trees, Geghayr whistles again and sweetly calls out for the female. “Nona, Nona…Perhaps she hasn’t seen us, otherwise she definitely would have come down.
Seconds later, Nona appears on the hill.
Nature has bestowed interesting differences to the male and female ostriches. Nona’s entire poise is all sweetness and coquetry. Her head down, grazing, Nona approaches us. Her grey body, full of down, sways on thin legs.
Aslan watches Nona from atop a hill. The female walked around the lake shore for a while before returning to Aslan.