Lifespan: Up to 50 years
Weight: Up to 76kg
Height: Up to 2m
The large, flightless Southern Cassowary is a resident of the north-eastern rainforests of Queensland, and Australia’s largest bird species. Due to the tall, bony helmet (called a casque) and 120mm claw on the inside toe of each foot, cassowaries are also known as ‘Rainforest Warriors’. They use their casque to tear a path through thick undergrowth and their claws to defend their young.
Cassowaries feed on almost anything, including fallen fruit, fungi, snails and dead or living rats, birds and lizards. Lacking a tongue, cassowaries toss their food with their beaks, to the back of their throat, swallowing food whole. Due to this, and its body and territory size, cassowaries make excellent rainforest gardeners, as they pass seeds through their digestive system fully intact and plant the seeds in their poo.
Cassowary numbers are declining in the wild for a number of reasons, including habitat loss, vehicle strikes, dog attacks and disease. Interference with its habitat is a serious problem for not only the bird but for many plant species. The cassowary is known as a keystone species, meaning the loss of this species could mean the loss of many other plant and animal species. As a vital seed disperser, many plant species will not be able to survive without the presence of cassowaries. This has a flow-on effect on other animal species, who may use these plants as sources of food, shelter or breeding grounds. Although the emu is Australia’s tallest bird, the cassowary is the heaviest, with the females weighing up to 76kg.