Save the Cassowary

Cassowaries are an endangered species. This is principally due to habitat loss and fragmentation of habitat. It is not known how many birds existed at European settlement, however in 1988 the Wet Tropics population was estimated at between 2500–4000 adults; by 2001 it was estimated at less than 1500, and the number continues to decrease. If the cassowary is to survive, effective action is required now. It is apparent that successful action must be rooted in community support. Such support relies upon education about habitat loss and the needs of the cassowary. To have the cassowary, the largest animal of the rainforest, go extinct along with so many other creatures before it, when timely action could prevent this, would be an appalling indictment of all of us.

Maintaining the cassowary is not just a matter of preserving a large, unique and colourful bird, or because the tourist income it generates makes economic sense. Its significance lies in the fact that it is the gardener of the rain forest. By eating seeds it spreads them far and wide, in particular the largest ones which smaller birds and bats cannot manage, and thus ensures the genetic diversity necessary for reproduction of the forest. This vital role cannot be overestimated as it not only sustains the cassowary, it also ensures the survival of the multiplicity of fauna – animals, insects, birds and fishes – that is to say, the fauna of this unique ecosystem, such as the creatures pictured below.

This is why cassowary research and education is a major focus of Kuranda Conservation. It has been ongoing for many years. Volunteer groups such as ourselves in the Daintree and Mission Beach are also involved in this vital project as are University of Queensland and the CSIRO amongst other academic institutions and researchers (see links below). Despite this, the number of birds continues to decline. The primary purpose of K Cons research is to identify individual cassowaries in our area, and their locations. This information will provide valuable knowledge about numbers, foraging range and reproduction, and thus the carrying capacity of the remaining rainforest. It will enable strategies to be developed to increase the area of rainforest; to provide wildlife corridors between isolated stands, and to reduce the impact of human intrusion into cassowary habitat, ie, to save the cassowary.

kCons, kurandaConservation, Southern cassowary scat, poo, dung, droppings

Casso scat containing a variety of seeds

The collection and recording of scats and sightings in Kuranda’s environs can takes us on fascinating expeditions into Cassowary Country and, if in luck, we catch glimpses of the bird as well. The  sightings and locations are recorded as are the scats which are also photographed. The scat seeds are identified, counted and planted in the nursery. To complete the circle, we then make the plants available to the community to plant on their properties, most of which is Cassowary Country. KCons has accumulated a comprehensive data bank on what Cassowaries are eating and what trees are fruiting at specific times of the year. Through this information we have gained an invaluable insight into the diet of the bird and the habitat required for its survival. The essential document which KCons relies upon is the Environmental Protection Agency: Recovery Plan for the Southern Cassowary . It also contains the background to the plan including general information, international obligations, biological information, distribution maps, threats, evaluation of the previous recovery plan, how this current plan will be evaluated and much more. You will find this a valuable resource.

kurandaConservation, kCons, Mission Beach Cassowaries

In the meantime – plant some local natives, advocate for preservation of the rain forest, and please take the advice of these signs designed at Mission Beach.

Note: The Southern Cassowary, Casuarius casuarius, is also known as Double-wattled Cassowary, Australian Cassowary or Two-wattled Cassowary. It is a ratite and therefore related to the EmuOstrich, and the genus Rhea.

Keeping Cassowaries Connected

Other Cassowary sites

Cassowary Recovery Team provides an overview of some of the databases:

C4 at Mission Beach:

Daintree Cassowaries:

Mission Beach Cassowaries

Rainforest Rescue Save the Cassowary campaign

University of Queensland:

Wet Tropics Management Authority