Securing a shared future for wildlife and people

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The Majestic Cassowary

A Cassowary exhibit was built behind the scenes in anticipation of the arrival of a  new male from Australia Zoo who was to be paired with  our female , “Macca”. 

The new male Cassowary, “Chuck”, arrived mid last year and settled  in well. Cassowaries are territorial and solitary animals, only coming together to mate, so we couldn’t just put Chuck and Macca together straight away. Instead we took things slowly to ensure everything went smoothly for both birds.

Initially the birds were placed in yards next to each other with shade cloth covering the fences so they could hear and smell each other, but not see one another. As the birds became more comfortable we unravelled parts of the shade cloth so they could get a look at their next door neighbour. We observed their behaviour and watched for signs of aggression, which is their way of telling us they’re not happy with the situation, but all signs looked good!

After advice from other Cassowary keepers in Queensland and  NSW,  we decided to take the big step and put the birds together. The birds had access to both sides of the exhibit which gave them the safety option of getting away from one another. We could also intervene and separate them with a gate system if necessary. Luckily there was no need, Chuck and Macca spent the day together in the same exhibit, but had separate areas overnight. We did this for about a month, constantly monitoring their behaviour before leaving them in the same area for their first night together.

Thanks to these supervised dates, Macca laid  four eggs and once she had finished laying we separated her from Chuck and left him to incubate the eggs, emulating the wild behaviours of the species.  Unfortunately, Chuck didn’t show much interest in the eggs, he obviously knew something we didn’t, because it was soon discovered that they were infertile.

Not to be deterred, we placed the birds back together to try for a second clutch, however Macca showed signs of aggression and started to moult which is an indication that the breeding season for the pair was over. Although this was a bit of a setback for this season, all the behaviours that we observed since their introduction are positive signs for next breeding season.

It is not uncommon for a new pair of Cassowaries not to breed successfully in their first year, and Chuck is a young male, so we have our fingers crossed for next time round.

Cassowary, Australia Image

Threats to Cassowaries

  • Habitat loss and fragmentation: Natural causes like cyclones that frequent the northern parts of Queensland and land clearing for residential settlement and agricultural expansion.
  • Fencing in their wild habitat: Interrupts the movement of the birds causing the birds to become trapped and display endless pacing. Also prevents the birds from reaching different parts of their habitat and finding a mate.
  • Road kill: This is the number one cause of adult cassowary deaths with an average of four killed every year just from car strikes alone.
  • Dogs and pigs: Unrestrained dogs have been known to kill juvenile cassowaries and feral pigs impact the cassowary’s habitat.

Why are they important

Cassowaries are referred to as a “Keystone Species”. They are crucial to rainforest diversity because they are the only animals capable of distributing the seeds of more than 70 species of trees and plants whose fruits are too large for any other forest dwelling animal to eat and relocate. The Cassowary has a very rapid digestive system and strong enzymes in its stomach it is also able to eat smaller seeds that are toxic to other animals. This results in a further 80 plants species able to germinate because of the Cassowary passing theses seeds through its digestive system.

What can you do to help

Donate your time and/or money to organisations like Rainforest Rescue, Save the Cassowary and the Cassowary Recovery Team.

These organisations are based in Mission Beach and the Daintree, North Queensland, and are always looking for volunteers to get involved in tree planting days and money donations to support habitat conservation and restoration as well as cassowary care and rehabilitation.

By Brooke Taylor, Cassowary Keeper

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