The Southern Cassowary is Endangered is now under increased threat from loss of habitat due to development, cars, dog attacks and natural disasters.
The Southern Cassowary is a direct descendent of the dinosaurs, it’s awesome and we’re lucky to have it here in Australia!
The Southern Cassowary is a ‘keystone’ species. Through eating the fruit and pooing out the seeds of rainforest plants, it plays a vital role as the ‘rainforest gardener’. Many plants depend on the cassowary for survival. Without them, the future of the rainforest is in peril.
Southern Cassowaries are shy by nature and only pose a threat to humans and domestic animals when defending their nests or chicks, if they have become accustomed to hand feeding, or when threatened.
We invite you to join us to save this magnificent and little understood Australian by getting to know the cassowary, understanding its vital importance in nature and supporting the projects that protect and ensure its future.
In this section you will find lots of information about the Endangered Southern Cassowary, including how it got to Australia and how it evolved from its dinosaur ancestors.
CASSOWARY QUICK FACTS
Casuarius casuarius johnsonii
The cassowary is a large, colourful, flightless bird endemic to Queensland’s tropical rainforests. Cassowaries are ratites, an ancient group of flightless birds which also includes the emu, ostrich, kiwi and rhea.
Southern Cassowaries are endemic to Australia, and are distributed from Cape York to Mission Beach in the Wet Tropics of Far North Queensland. They require dense, tropical rainforest habitats to provide a year-round supply of fleshy fruit.
Modern birds descended from dinosaurs and cassowaries belong to one of the most ancient lineages of living birds. The casque of the cassowary may serve a similar function as the helmet of the lambeosaurus (duck-billed dinosaur). Other similarities exist between cassowaries and theropod dinosaurs, such as their feet and respiratory structures. Their breeding behaviour is thought to have much in common with some groups of dinosaurs.
The helmet-like structure on a cassowary’s head is called a casque. The inside is spongy and connected to ear canals, while the outer layer is usually light to dark brown in colour and resembles the material found on a turtle shell. Each cassowary has a unique casque which can be used to identify individual birds.
La Trobe University researchers have revealed that casque is likely used to help the birds keep cool during Australia’s hot summers.
Danielle Eastick, from the Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution, measured 20 captive cassowaries across Australia and found that the birds released less heat from the casque in cold weather, and the greatest levels when temperatures hit 36 degrees.
Male-only parental care occurs in only about 1% of birds, as opposed to female-only care which is found in about 8%. In approximately 80% of bird species, both parents care for their chicks. Male-only parental care is common amongst the ratites, with the exception of ostriches. Male parental care may also have occurred in theropod dinosaurs, the ancestors of modern birds. Southern Cassowaries are a ‘keystone species’. They are the only animal in the rainforest that eats fruits from poisonous plants and plants with large seeds, and through their droppings disperse the seeds over a large range, allowing the rainforest to regenerate.
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