When Animals Attack 5: The Cassowary

 When Animals Attack 5: The Cassowary

Since starting our ‘When Animals Attack’ series I have been sent many emails and tweets suggesting animals that you’d like to see featured. So far we have looked at the Nile Crocodile, the King Cobra, Elephants, and The Box Jellyfish. Today we are going to be looking at the Cassowary.

I was sent a link to an article on the Washington Post about a 75-year-old man in Florida who was killed by a Cassowary last month that he kept as a pet on his farm. Reading that article got me looking into these birds a little more deeply and I have decided to cover them in more detail here for you in our fifth post of the series.

These are not necessarily mean birds, in fact they’re kind of shy, but that doesn’t stop them from being dangerous. There have been very few reports of people that have been killed by the Cassowary but there have been many attacks. While these are animals that you don’t ever want to mess with, why somebody would want to own one as a pet is beyond me.

The Cassowary stands at 6 feet tall and can run at speeds of around 30 mph. This in itself is a scary thought but they also have 5-inch-long dagger-like talons on their middle toes which you certainly don’t want to be on the receiving end of. They also have bright blue and red colours on their heads and necks and have a large horn-like structure – called a casque – that grows from the top of their heads.

There are three species of Cassowaries known today. Two are found in the rain forests of New Guinea and nearby islands. The third and largest of the three, the southern Cassowary, also lives in the Wet Tropics of northern Queensland, Australia.

When threatened, Cassowaries can kick in a forward and downward direction as well as peck, barge or head-butt. In most cases, the injuries that humans receive are puncture wounds, lacerations and bone fractures. The worst of which usually happen when the person is crouching or has fallen on the ground. These are certainly not an animal that you want to crouch down in front of or turn your back on.

The biggest percentage of attacks on people are due to food which I believe may have been the reason in the Washington Post article that I linked to at the start of this post. In the wild, Cassowaries are naturally wary and highly unlikely to attack without provocation. In areas where people have taken to feeding them, it becomes a different story in that they can become aggressive and possibly even attack when they expect food but no food is offered.

What’s concerning like most animals, it is what humans are doing that is leading to their decline. There favored habitat is dense rainforest which is being diminished by property developers, conversion into farmland and the encroachment of associated infrastructure such as roads and Fences. This will all lead to a rise in attacks when these birds have nowhere else to go.

I do want to say however, although Cassowaries are dangerous, there are many more interactions that people have with these birds that don’t end in aggression or injury.

Cassowary Quick Facts

  • How many species of Cassowary exist? There are three species; the Northern Cassowary, Southern Cassowary and Dwarf Cassowary.
  • What is the scientific names for the Cassowaries? The Southern Cassowary is ‘Casuarius casuarius’, the Northern Cassowary is ‘Casuarius unappendiculatus’, and the Dwarf Cassowary is ‘Casuarius bennetti’.
  • Where can they be found in the wild? All three species are found in New Guinea, but only the Southern Cassowary is found in Australia.
  • How are they rated on the IUCN Red List? Both the Northern and Southern Cassowary are rated as ‘Vulnerable’ while the Dwarf Cassowary is rated ‘Of Least Concern’.
  • How tall is the Cassowary? The Southern Cassowary stands at 1.5–2 m, the Northern Cassowary at 1.5–1.8 m, and the Dwarf Cassowary at 1–1.3 m.
  • How fast can they run? Cassowaries can run at speeds of around 30 mph.
  • Can the Cassowary jump? Yes, they can jump at heights of up to 7 feet in the air.
  • What do they eat? They usually eat different types of fruit, seeds, shoots, fungi, small invertebrates, insects and small animals.
  • What is the Lifespan of the Cassowary? They can survive 12-19 years in the wild and between 40 and 50 in captivity.
  • Who raises the young? Female cassowaries breed with several partners. After laying her eggs, she abandons them, at which point the males take over and incubates the eggs for at least 50 days, never leaving the nest. Males then spend the next nine months raising and defending the chicks as well as teaching them how to forage so they can fend for themselves.

What to do if You Encounter a Cassowary

1) Do not feed them. Never attempt to feed a Cassowary or leave food where they can easily access it.

2) Leave your dog at home. If venturing out into known Cassowary habitat, leave your dog at home. Dogs are a big threat to young Cassowaries and can also stress out adults, leading to aggression.

3) Keep your distance. If you have come across a Cassowary in your travels, back away slowly or take cover behind trees or shrubs.

4) Do not run. I have seen many websites telling you to run but from what I have read, this is hardly ever going to work out well for you. These birds can outsprint us any day.

5) Protect your chest and stomach. If you’re wearing a backpack or bag, move it to your front in order to shield your chest and stomach area.

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