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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Species Fact Profile: Double-Wattled Casowary (Casuarius casuarius)

Double-Wattled (Southern) Cassowary
Casuarius casuarius (Linnaeus, 1758)

Range:  New Guinea, Aru Islands, Australia (Cape York)
Habitat: Lowland Rainforest, Savannah, Forested Swamp
Diet: Fruits, Small Vertebrates, Invertebrates, Fungi
Social Grouping: Solitary
Reproduction: Polyandrous (one female mates with 2-3 males per breeding season), breed during the winter.  4-8 bright green eggs are laid in separate nests for each male, incubated by the males for 47-61 days.  Chicks stay with their father until they are nine months old and are sexually mature by 3 years of age.
Lifespan: 40 Years (Captivity)
Conservation Status: IUCN Vulnerable
  • The third largest bird on earth (females being larger than males), may weigh 39-59 kilograms and measure 102-170 centimeters long 
  • The black-brown feathers are coarse and hair-like; the head and neck are naked and electric blue with two red wattles.  The head is crowned with a casque of bone and cartilage
  • Flightless, with very small wings.  The vestigial primary feathers appear now as spines
  • Can run up to 50 kilometers per hour, using the casque (the origin of the name "cassowary" is the Malay for "horn head") to push through vegetation as they run; they are also good swimmers and jumpers
  • Considered by many authorities to be "the most dangerous bird on earth", as they occasionally kill humans with their sharp claws
  • Territories are claimed with loud, deep roars - another possible use of the casque is sound amplification
  • Believed to be important seed dispersers for some rainforest trees, as they are the largest fruit-eating animal in their range
  • Occupy an important role in the mythology and culture of New Guinea; chicks are captured and raised in villages, their feathers are harvested, and they are killed and eaten upon reaching adulthood.  Cassowaries could be traded for pigs or wives
  • It is possible that the cassowary is not truly native to Australia, but was introduced there (and to surrounding islands) through trade with New Guinea
  • Habitat loss is the main threat to the survival of the species; other threats include car collisions and disruption of nests by pigs and dogs

Zookeeper's Journal: Most people know of cassowaries for their reputed ferocity and violence, and it is true that they can be fiercely aggressive birds (this aggression normally sets in at an age of about three years or so).  Having spent a small amount of time working with them - and much more time working with ostriches, emus, and rheas - the main impression I got from them was fragility.  They are the most delicate of the ratites in captivity, less cold hardy and more easily stressed by crowds.  Whereas other ratites are birds of open country, cassowaries are inhabitants of dense forests, and are most comfortable in heavily planted enclosures.  They also breed far less readily in captivity than do the other ratites - there are ostrich and emu and rhea farms... no cassowary farms.

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