Second Biggest: The Southern Cassowary is the second-largest bird in Australia and the third-largest remaining bird in the world (after the ostrich and emu). Adult Southern Cassowaries are 1.5 to 1.8 m (5½ feet) tall, although some may reach 2m, and weigh about 60 kilograms (130 pounds).
Hard Headed: They have a bony casque on the head that is used to batter through underbrush, making them the only armoured bird in the world. Females are bigger and more brightly coloured.
Shy Birds: The Northern and Dwarf Cassowaries are not well known.
All cassowaries are usually shy, secretive birds of the deep forest, adept at disappearing long before a human knows they are there. Even the more accessible Southern Cassowary of the far north Queensland rain forests is not well understood.
Fruit Fanatics: Cassowaries are frugivorous; fallen fruit and fruit on low branches is the mainstay of their diet. They also eat fungi, snails, insects, frogs, snakes and other small animals. Recently, they have also been spotted to attack humans, though this usually only occurs in self-defense when humans intrude upon the birds' territory or cause them to feel threatened.
Claw and Casque: A cassowary's
three-toed feet have sharp claws; the dagger-like middle claw is 120 mm (5 inches) long. This claw is particularly dangerous since the Cassowary can use it to kill an enemy, disemboweling it with a single kick. They can run up to 50 km/h (32 mph) through the dense forest, pushing aside small trees and brush with their bony casques. They can jump up to 1.5 m (5 feet) and they are good swimmers.
Cassowaries in Danger: Southern and Northern Cassowaries are threatened species because of habitat loss; estimates of their current population range from 1500 to 10,000 individuals. About 40 are kept in captivity in Australia. Habitat loss has caused some cassowaries to venture out of the rainforest into human communities. This has caused conflict particularly with fruit growers. However, in some locations such as Mission Beach, Queensland, tourism involving the birds has been launched.
Be Cassowary: The 2004 edition of the Guinness World Records lists the cassowary as the world's most dangerous bird. Normally cassowaries are very shy but when
disturbed can lash out dangerously with their powerful legs.
During World War II American and Australian troops stationed in New Guinea were warned to steer clear of the birds. They are capable of inflicting serious injuries on an adult human, even causing death, but these instances usually result from provocation by the human, or are due to the involvement of dogs; wounded or cornered birds are particularly dangerous. Humans are well advised to stay away from Cassowaries in their natural environment as the bird can easily outmaneuver even an armed person.
Cassowaries, deftly using their surroundings to conceal their movements, have been known to out-flank organized groups of human predators. Cassowaries are considered to be one of the most dangerous animals to keep in zoos, based on the frequency and severity of injuries incurred by zookeepers.
Be Very Cassowary: An unprovoked attack on a Papua New Guinea village has also been documented, but was the result of a bird previously raised in captivity being released into the wild. At least two people, a man and his mother, were confirmed to have died as a result of this attack. Another verified attack came when a careless zookeeper named Luke James, was brutally attacked and killed after not so subtly mocking the ferocity of the Cassowary at what was previously thought to be a safe distance.
Be Really, Really Cassowary: More recently, Cassowaries have been known to lose their natural fear of man. As a result, large areas of Australian National Parks have been temporarily closed to avoid human contact with the bird.
Emerald Eggs: Females lay three to eight large,
pale green-blue eggs in each clutch. These
eggs measure about 90 by 140 mm (3½ by 5½ inches) — only ostrich and emu eggs are larger.
The female does not care for the eggs or the
chicks; the male incubates the eggs for
two months, then cares for the brown-striped
chicks for nine months.
Southern Cassowary or double-wattled cassowary C. casuarius of
Cassowaries (from the Indonesian name kasuari) are part of the ratite group, which also includes the emu, rhea, ostrich, moa, and kiwi. There are three species:
Australia and New Guinea.
Dwarf Cassowary C. bennetti of New Guinea and New Britain.
Northern Cassowary C. unappendiculatus of New Guinea.
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