The Cassowary, voted the 'most dangerous bird on the planet' by the Guinness Book of World Records, is the largest land creature found on the Australian continent and in Papua New Guinea. It is also the third-largest bird in the world, the first two being the Ostrich and the Emu. Since it is an inhabitant of rain forests, which are rapidly shrinking, it is high on the Endangered Species list.
The Cassowary belongs to the Ratite Bird Family. All Ratites are large, flightless birds that have been around for some 100 million years, since the long-gone days of Gondwanaland. This ancient family includes the Emu, the Ostrich, the Moa (now extinct), the Rheas, and the Kiwi.
1. Casuarius Casuarius - This is better known as the Southern/Double-Wattled Cassowary. It is mainly found in Australia, New Guinea, and Ceram, and is the most well-known of the three Cassowaries.
2. Casuarius Unappendiculatus - This is better known as the One-Wattled Cassowary. It is mainly found in New Guinea.
3. Casuarius Bennetti - This is better known as the Dwarf Cassowary. It is mainly found in New Guinea and New Britain.
The average height ranges between 5 to 6 feet. It weighs around 70 kilos. The females are larger than the males, and also more colorful. It has a whitish patch about its head, the color tapering off to blue and purple from the head down to the neck. Here there are red wattles in front and an orange patch at the back. The red color of the wattles changes from pale to medium to dark depending on the bird's mood. The rest of the body is covered with coarse black feathers. The upper legs, under the long black feathers, are blue, and are otherwise gray or greenish-gray.
Cassowaries have sharp beaks and casques on top of their heads―a casque is a gray, helmet-like growth of tough, rigid yet elastic skin. This is one of its most distinguishing features and what gave the bird its name―in Papuan, 'Kasu-weri' means 'horned head'. Dominant birds generally have larger casques. When the bird runs, it lowers its head and uses the casque as a sort of battering-ram to clear out everything in its path.
Cassowaries become sexually mature at around 4 years and have a long life-span of around 60 years. You can say that the Cassowary is the totem-bird of Feminism. Here you have the females playing the field―after laying a clutch of 3 to 8 pale greenish-blue eggs, the female shows no more interest in her young. The male bird builds the nest, incubates the eggs for around 50 days, and then rears the brown-striped chicks for a year. After which, he tires of playing the devoted Dad and chases them off to fend for themselves. Except for the breeding season between May to November, Cassowaries are not at all keen on socializing with one another and each bird has its own demarcated territory, more often than not overlapping with other birds―if their wanderings also overlap, there are sometimes fights.
Their main diet is fruit and fungi. But they are not fussy and also eat frogs, snakes, snails, worms, insects, dead rats and birds, and any other dead creature if it thinks it edible enough. They are foragers, not hunters. The bird has extremely sharp sight and hearing and a loud raucous voice that can be heard 3 miles away. Usually they are wary of human beings and hide if they hear one coming―and they are so good at it, that you could pass close by and not notice this huge bird. But, with more and more human encroachment of their habitat, familiarity is breeding contempt. There have been several incidents of Cassowaries attacking humans, and, in some cases, it is the humans that have fared badly from the encounter.
These birds, as mentioned, are large and they have very strong legs, with sharp talons, the innermost five-inch one being especially dangerous. They can rip out your innards with one hard kick. This is one formidable adversary if you make the mistake of riling it―aside from the built-in knives in its kick-boxing feet, not to mention the equally deadly battering ram on top of its head, this bird can run 50 km/hr and jump over a height of 5 feet. And, oh yes, it is also one hell of a swimmer. If it wasn't endangered and I didn't want to give it a bad rap like Spielberg did to the sharks, this bird, I'm telling you, would have a starring role in my home-remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Birds'.
1. Don't tease or bother the bird. Back away quietly. Stay out of its way.
2. Don't feed the bird. Feeding the bird makes it lose its natural shyness towards humans and can lead to aggressive attacks, provoked or unprovoked.
3. Drive slowly if the birds are near the road and keep the car-windows shut. Otherwise don't linger to bird-watch and give them the chance to car-watch/man-watch.
4. If you live in Cassowary country and own a dog, please keep it confined in your house or yard, and always on a leash for walks. A loose dog, if it doesn't get itself killed first, can either kill or wound a Cassowary or its young―a wounded one, especially one protecting its chicks, can be even more dangerous.
The Cassowaries are called the Gardeners of the Rain Forest. As they wander throughout their territory, they eat fruit from the Rain Forest trees, shit what they eat, and, by thus depositing the intact seeds far from the mother tree, help in the propagation of the Rain Forest. Some of the fruit they eat is so toxic that no other creature would dare to take a bite, and except for the Cassowary―whose unique digestive system makes it immune―these trees wouldn't be able to disperse their seeds and therefore would be unable to grow and produce bitter fruit elsewhere. What this means in the long term is that the forest areas would shrink disastrously. There are around 80 tree species that depend solely on the Cassowary for their future generations. The loss of these trees would harm the Rain Forest, affect the environment, and in turn put our existence at risk.