The southern cassowary is an endangered species with an estimated population of only 1,500. They are the third largest flightless bird, and although the emu is Australia’s tallest bird, the cassowary is the heaviest, with females weighing up to 70kg.
Southern cassowaries live in the north-eastern rainforests of Queensland, Australia. Due to a bony helmet on their head (called a casque) and a 120mm claw on each foot, cassowaries are also known as ‘Rainforest Warriors’. They use their casque to clear paths through the rainforest and their claws as a defence tool.
New trees from poo
Cassowaries make excellent rainforest gardeners and feed on almost anything, including fruit, fungi, snails, rats, birds and lizards. Cassowaries spread the seeds of over 100 plant species by eating the fruits or flowers and then pooping out whole seeds, encouraging new plant growth.
On the brink – twofold
There are many reasons why the southern cassowary is an endangered species, however, interference with its habitat is a serious problem. The loss of the cassowary may also mean the loss of many plant species, as they’ll have no other way of dispersing their seeds. For this reason, the cassowary is known as a ‘keystone species’, as they play a crucial role in the way that the ecosystem functions.