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Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
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SOUTHERN CASSOWARY

Cassowary1.jpg (13097 bytes)
Photo: C & D Frith
Wet Tropics Rainforest Life

SOUTHERN CASSOWARY                              
Casuarius casuarius 200 cm

      The Cassowary has Gondwanaland origins (when much more of Australia was
        covered by rainforests).

      There are two other cassowary species in New Guinea.

      It lives to about 50 years of age.

      Despite being a bird, the Cassowary is Australia’s largest land animal.

      It normally weighs about 60kg, but the heaviest recorded was 83kg.

      Its eggs are the third largest of all birds at an average 584g (after the Ostrich eggs
        at 1100g and Emu eggs at 637g). 

      Even though it is large and colourful, it can be hard to see in the rainforest. At close
        quarters it may be quite frightening.

      It has powerful legs and if provoked may kick in defence. The sharp nails on its inner
        toes can easily rip flesh so the Cassowary is capable of killing humans.

      Unable to fly, all it has is the vestigial remains of wings. These have 3-5 large
        wire-like feathers attached that help brush aside any plants in its travelling path. As it
        moves it also holds its head down for protection and lifts its toes right up under its
        chin.

      Its hard casque or helmet comprises a central cartilage core and an outer tough
        horn-like skin covering. Its size is possibly significant in determining social status.

      The Cassowary is an endangered species, with estimates of only 1500 remaining.
        This means there may be fewer Cassowaries in Australia than Pandas in China. It
        has relatives such as the Elephant Bird of Madagascar and the moas of New
        Zealand that became extinct after contact with humans.

      Its extinction could affect rainforest plant diversity as it helps spread the seeds of up
        to 100 tree and shrub species.

      Its short digestive system allows it to eat the fruits of poisonous plants by eliminating
        the toxins before absorbing them. This seems to be associated with a highly active
        liver and an unusual combination of stomach enzymes. Seeds usually remain intact
        and can grow after passing through the bird. 
        Accordingly, the Cassowary is often referred to as a ‘keystone species’ in seed
        dispersal.

      Other animals such as the Musky Rat Kangaroo often include part-digested fruit
        from the Cassowary’s droppings in their diets.

Breeding

      The only time the Cassowary is not solitary is during the breeding season. At other
        times, if there is an accidental meeting, the female is dominant (it is larger with
        brighter colours).

      A female often lay eggs in more than one male's nest, but then leaves the family
        responsibilities to them! The male incubates the eggs (for about 50 days) and looks
        after the young until he becomes intolerant of them and chases them away at about
        one year of age.

      4 or 5 blue-green eggs are laid from May/June to October/November.

      The chicks are striped until they are about 6-9 months old and become a glossy
        black colour when they are about 3 years old.

Additional Information

      'Henry' was a well-known Cassowary living in the Lake Barrine region. He was born
        in November 1989 in the Gadgarra State Forest a short distance to the east. Being
        constantly surrounded by humans since his birth, he was  easily approachable
        (unlike other cassowaries).

      In his youth he was a regular visitor to the clearing at Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodge

      'Henry' had the advantage of easily finding food (given to him by his many visitors)
        without having to travel throughout the rainforest in search of the freshest fallen fruits
        for himself.  

      His residence at Lake Barrine was a tourist drawcard but caused several
        problems.  In particular, he was a hazard to traffic and finally died after a minor
        collision with a truck.  

Some Ways to Help  

      It’s best not to stop if you see a Cassowary on the road, but to slow down instead.
        This is to prevent encouragement of the bird’s interest in cars and to reduce its risk
        of being hit or causing an accident.

      Do not feed a Cassowary as this reinforces its interest in people and contributes to
        its fearless attitude.

      When driving near a Cassowary, move away quickly so the bird will become
        disinterested.

      Keep car doors and windows closed to exclude cassowaries.

      Please inform others of these suggestions.

RETURN TO BIRD INDEX

Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges
Lake Eacham, Atherton Tableland
Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
PH & Fax: 07 4095 3754 International: 61 7 4095 3754

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