Southern Cassowary

by Kate C
Publish date
20 April 2012
Comments (3)

It's Earth Day on 22 April 2012 and the Earth Day Network is seeking a billion pledges for 'acts of green' – individuals and organisations to commit to an act or activity, large or small, to contribute to conservation and environmental awareness.

One of the museum's customer service staff, Ella, is passionate about protecting the Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii). She's inspired MV Blog's act of green: to highlight this amazing flightless bird and the efforts to conserve its Queensland rainforest habitat. The species is listed as endangered in Queensland, and vulnerable on the IUCN Redlist.

Southern Cassowary Museum Victoria's Southern Cassowary. It is exhibition in Wild: amazing animals in a changing world.
Image: Heath Warwick
Source: Museum Victoria

The Southern Cassowary in the Wild exhibition has been in the museum's collection for over 100 years. Our records note that it was collected on 26 March 1885 in Queensland by an unknown collector and that we acquired it in 1887 from the Acclimitization Society of Victoria. In the 1880s, cassowaries were far more common; an estimated 1000 individuals are all that are left in the wild today.

Gould's Australian Cassowary lithograph. Australian Cassowary, reproduced from The Birds of Australia, supplements by John Gould, London 1851, vol. 1 (5parts)
Image: Artist John Gould / Lithographer H. C. Richter
Source: Museum Victoria

The name cassowary stems from a Malay word meaning needle, after the bird's the needle-like wing feathers. With its brilliant-coloured neck and glossy black plumage, the Southern Cassowary is Australia's heaviest bird. Its large body is fuelled by the fruits of over 200 species of rainforest trees and it has an important ecological role in spreading seeds. It's estimated that 70-100 plant species will only germinate once their seeds have travelled through the gut of a cassowary.

As humans have cleared Queensland forests for timber, agriculture and housing developments, we have removed and fragmented the birds' habitat. Fewer trees mean less food for cassowaries. The birds roam between forest patches that are now criss-crossed by roads and many are killed by cars each year. Domestic dogs are another cause of cassowary population decline. In 2011, Cyclone Yasi hit the Far North Queensland coast and severely damaged the remaining habitat occupied by a cassowary population at Mission Beach.

Preserving and regenerating suitable habitat is critical for the survival of this species. Rainforest Rescue is an organisation that purchases land in the Daintree River valley to turn into permanent conservation reserves. They also reconnect remnant forest patches by revegetating cleared land between them, forming continuous tracts of habitat full of cassowary food plants. Since 2007, Rainforest Rescue has planted over 26,000 native plants in the Daintree. It is a very long-term project because these plantings take many years to mature. Their hope is that one day the fruits of those trees will fill the bellies of a stable and thriving cassowary population.


Rainforest Rescue

Cassowary in Wild: amazing animals in a changing world 

Comments (3)

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Erich 20 April, 2012 09:19
Great essay on a remarkable living dinosaur!
kymbo 20 April, 2012 11:16
I share you passion Ella! They are definitely scarce. I was very lucky to have spotted one in the wild on the outskirts of Cairns many years ago, on a walking trail on Mt Witfield I think it's called. I had walked the trail atleast 5 times in the space of 2-3 months before I was lucky enough to spot one off the trail in the rugged undergrowth. At the time the locals told me only 10 were left in this particular area, which was in quite a close proximity to the low lying city and directly next to the airport. Good luck and keep us posted on how we can help!
Robyn 5 May, 2012 11:49
Great work Ella!
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