Cassowaries: What are we doing to protect the ‘rainforest gardener’?

picture of cassowary
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Found only in the Wet Tropics and parts of Cape York in Australia, cassowaries are fascinating and unique birds. But as thrilling as it is to see them in the wild, the future of this endangered species is uncertain.

Like many endangered species, the cassowary population in the Wet Tropics has been put at risk by the destruction and fragmentation of its natural habitat as a result of land clearing and urban development.

Thankfully many local communities are passionate about cassowary conservation so this distinctive bird at least has a fighting chance of surviving.

The area south of Cairns has even taken the step of calling themselves the Cassowary Coast, and the local mayor sums it up well by saying, “I don’t want to be mayor of the ‘Extinction Coast’”.

protecting cassowaries

Local communities and authorities have certainly taken protecting cassowary habitat more seriously in recent years.

Etty Bay Cassowary

Nearly 90% is now protected by National Parks although much of this is on steep slopes.

The best habitat is still in demand for other uses so cassowaries continue to face threats from traffic and domestic dog attacks.

Cassowaries are large birds that require large areas of habitat with food and water sources to survive.

Because of this, and the fact that much of their habitat has become fragmented, cassowaries are often seen crossing roads and walking through urban areas.

what’s being done?

picture of cassowary with chickRecent analysis by Terrain NRM in partnership with Cairns Tropical Zoo has revealed that Mission Beach is the main hotspot for cassowary deaths, particularly due to vehicle strike.

The Mission Beach tourist information centre has said “110%” of tourists visiting the area want to see a cassowary.

Subsequently, local community groups who are very actively involved in cassowary conservation are working closely with tourism to find a way for cassowaries and tourism to benefit each other.

Many of the strategies being put in place to protect cassowaries include mapping important cassowary corridors for planning purposes and revegetating habitat so that fragmented pockets can be reconnected, allowing cassowaries to roam more easily between each habitat.

The next step in securing the recovery of cassowaries and their environment is dependent on minimising vehicle strikes and dog attacks, whilst maintaining habitat and revegetating corridors.

why is the cassowary so important?

cassowary The cassowary has become an iconic symbol of the Wet Tropics and it generates important tourism dollars for local communities.

However, its environmental role as the ‘rainforest gardener’, which supports the ecology and diversity of the rainforest, is its most vital role.

All animals help maintain the ecosystem by eating fruits and spreading seeds. However, as the largest creature in the rainforest, the cassowary is the only one capable of ingesting larger fruits and seeds, so certain plant species are dependent on the cassowary for their survival.

What also makes the cassowary so special is the fact that it has an unusual digestive system that allows it to consume fruits that would be toxic to other species.

Scientists therefore consider cassowaries to be an ‘umbrella’ or ‘keystone’ species, because without them, some other species might also become extinct.

best places to see cassowaries in the wild in nq

While seeing any kind of animal in the wild can never be guaranteed, the places in North Queensland where you are most likely to see a cassowary in the wild include Mission Beach, Etty Bay, Kuranda and the Daintree.

interesting cassowary facts:

cassowary chicks

  • Cassowaries are part of the same family of birds as emus and ostrichs
  • There are 3 species: Southern, Northern and Dwarf
  • The Southern Cassowary is the only one found in Australia (it is also present in Papua New Guinea and the Aru Islands)
  • They can grow to a height of 2 metres
  • Mating season is June-September
  • The fathers raise the chicks
  • They are solitary birds so you won’t often see them in groups unless you see a male with its chicks
  • They mostly eat fruit

travel nq fast facts:

  • If you see a cassowary, don’t approach it, they have been known to be dangerous towards humans, especially if they have chicks.
  • Do not feed them – this makes them dependent on humans and attracts them to places where they are at greater risk of vehicle strike or dog attack.
  • If you’re driving in areas like Mission Beach and the Daintree, take notice of the road signs and slow down.

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