Seeing a cassowary in the wild is one of the most magical things that can happen to you in far north Queensland. You’ve got to be careful around a cassowary – but seeing one up close is an amazing experience.
The emu may be taller, but the cassowary is much better-looking. They occur only in FNQ and Papua New Guinea. These endangered flightless birds are solitary creatures, living in and journeying through our rainforests.
Their proper scientific name is the Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii). There’s a pretty good chance you might see one in the wild when you’re bush-walking in FNQ, especially in the Daintree and Cassowary Coast regions. If you do, give them room to move. Those long pointy toe nails can kill — and cassowaries will kick when they feel threatened.
Cassowaries face many dangers. Urban sprawl, dogs, wild pigs, roads. And cyclones. When a tropical cyclone hits a rainforest, the canopy gets damaged, the balance of nature shifts for a time, and food becomes scarce. In recent years, people have set up feed stations deep in the rainforest, leaving fruit and vegies to keep the cassowaries going through lean times.
When Cyclone Yasi slammed into FNQ in February 2011, a group of cassowaries were in a rehab centre at Garners Beach, not far from where the cyclone made land-fall. The centre looks after sick and injured cassowaries.
Some of the cassowaries have since been released back in to the wild near Tully, Innisfail and Cape Tribulation. They went home fitted with satellite trackers, so their carers could see how they were doing. And the news sent back via GPS is good. The birds are still alive and appear to be doing very well.
Graham Lauridsen is the vet in Tully – he had the job of fitting the cassowaries with their trackers. He says the results are very encouraging.
Read more about efforts to help cassowaries at http://www.savethecassowary.org.au/