The majestic cassowary: Australia’s threatened rainforest giant

Cassowary

Meet the enigmatic cassowary: A fascinating inhabitant of the Australian rainforest

The cassowary is a magnificent and fascinating creature that calls the rainforests of northern Queensland, Australia home. With its striking blue and red neck feathers and distinctive casque (helmet-like structure) on its head, the cassowary is a true standout in the animal kingdom.

The word “cassowary” is derived from the Makassar language of Sulawesi in Indonesia, where the bird is known as “kasauari.” The word “kasauari” is thought to be derived from the words “ka” and “sauari,” which mean “horn” and “bird,” respectively. This is likely in reference to the cassowary’s distinctive casque (helmet-like structure) on its head.

The term “cassowary” was first used by Europeans in the early 19th century to refer to the species, and it has since been widely adopted as the common name for the bird. The scientific name for the cassowary is Casuarius casuarius, and it is a member of the Casuariidae family, which also includes emus and kiwis.

Standing up to 1.5 meters tall and weighing up to 80 kilograms, the cassowary is a large, flightless bird that is well-adapted to life in the rainforest. With its powerful legs and sharp claws, the cassowary is able to navigate the dense, uneven terrain of the rainforest with ease and is an important member of the ecosystem, helping to disperse seeds and maintain the health of the forest.

Black and shiny adult plumage with very stiff feathers. The chin and the front of the neck are deep blue, and the sides of the neck below have a mixture of blue and red. The sides of the head and the upper part of the rear of the neck are bare, and they are a light greenish blue colour. The lower part of the back of the neck is similarly bare. Pinkish-red is seen on the two noticeable wattles on the foreneck. There are some short, stiff hairs growing on the neck’s naked skin.

The helmet or casque grows to a considerable size, and in old birds it’s very large. It serves to protect the head of the bird when, with body depressed and neck bent forwards, it dashes through the thick undergrowth in the jungle which forms its home. The sexes are very similar in plumage when adult.

Despite its impressive size and strength, the cassowary is a relatively reclusive animal and is not often seen in the wild. It is a solitary creature and is most active during the early morning and late afternoon, when it can be found foraging for food. The cassowary’s diet consists mainly of fruit, with a particular preference for figs, but it will also occasionally feed on insects and small animals.

Reproduction

The cassowary reaches sexual maturity at around 3 years of age and will typically mate with a single partner for life. During the breeding season, the male cassowary is responsible for building the nest and incubating the eggs, while the female takes care of the chicks once they hatch.

The eggs, from three to six in the clutch, are of a delicate pale green colour, which easily fades. They measure on the average about 5.55 X 3.70 inches. They are granulated like those of the Emu.

A single clutch of eggs can contain up to six eggs, and the chicks are able to fend for themselves once they reach adulthood.

Young cassowaries are of a yellowish-buff colour, with three wide black stripes down their back, and three other irregular black stripes on each side. These markings do not survive beyond the first year. In the second and third years the plumage is yellowish brown; and it is only after the third year that the black colour gradually appears.

The importance of the cassowary in maintaining the health of the Australian rainforest

The cassowary is an important member of the Australian rainforest ecosystem and plays a vital role in maintaining the health of the forest. One of the main ways in which the cassowary contributes to the health of the rainforest is through seed dispersal.

Cassowaries are known to consume a wide variety of fruit, and as they move through the forest, they inadvertently disperse the seeds of these fruits in their droppings. This helps to ensure that a diverse range of plant species are able to thrive in the rainforest, which in turn helps to maintain the overall health of the ecosystem.

Cassowaries also play a role in maintaining the health of the rainforest through its role as a predator. Cassowaries are known to prey on small animals, such as insects and rodents, which helps to control the population sizes of these species and prevent them from becoming too numerous. This can help to prevent outbreaks of pests or disease that can harm the health of the forest.

Despite its importance to the rainforest ecosystem, the cassowary is facing a number of threats, including habitat loss, road fatalities, and predation by dogs. In recognition of these threats, the cassowary has been listed as a threatened species in Australia and is protected under national and state conservation laws. Efforts are being made to protect and conserve the cassowary, including habitat restoration, breeding programs, and education campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of these amazing animals.

The Black Prince of Townsville Grammar School

Observations from 1911 when A cassowary was kept as a pet by the headmaster

“The Cassowary is too expensive and too uncertain in temper to be frequently kept as a pet. Mr. C. H. Hodges, when headmaster of the Townsville Grammar School, however, kept one for two years. Black Prince, as he was called, had been caught young, and, though he grew to stand over five feet without his stockings, he did not show any malice in his disposition, even to strangers. He would stroll about the grounds with his master’s arm around his neck, and merely take the opportunity to poke his head into his master’s pocket where he expected, not without warrant, to find something to his advantage. For sleeping-place a cage was provided in a comer of the shrubbery, but he was allowed to ramble about at his own free will.

The house was raised some three feet above the ground, and his delight was to creep under it, and to watch from, a hen which resorted to the same quarters, and, as soon as she had laid an egg, he would take and eat it. His appetite was a healthy one. At first he would only eat bananas, of which he consumed some ten shillings’ worth in a week. The feeding operation resembled nothing so much as the posting of letters in a pillar-box, unlimited bananas disappearing one by one into the dark cavity without producing any apparent effect. Later on he learned to feed on potatoes and bread. Hunger was in fact a constant trait, and he was ever on the look-out for something tasty. One lady had skinned a bird ; he approached, saw, seized and promptly swallowed the skin. Another lady’s bonnet attracted him; with a dart he pecked it off, but this, dainty as it was, proved too difficult an object for the pillar-box. This Cassowary drew the line at missionaries ; he never attempted to swallow one. Black Prince made great friends with a cockatoo.

In their game Cocky soon discovered the weakness of Achilles. A timely nip in the heel was always sufficient to make his large and otherwise invulnerable, friend leap high into the air as a first step in his retreat. The Cassowary was not so friendly with some tame kangaroos which shared the shrubbery with him. He would kick them from him, with the force of a horse, always kicking forwards. This power, alas, proved to be too dangerous as the bird increased in size and strength, and, in order to prevent accidents, it became necessary to remove him, greatly to the sorrow of his master.”

The cassowary is a truly remarkable and vital member of the Australian rainforest ecosystem, and it is important that we work to protect and conserve this magnificent bird.

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