Words by Jeremy Lebeuf


Hidden in the shadows of the ancient forest, the elusive Cassowary struts around her domain. While it is particularly difficult to spot the rather large flightless bird romping about, she is curious to a fault and chances are will be watching you.

Impeccably charismatic and strikingly vogue, the cassowary isn’t your ordinary chook – she’s rainforest royalty. Outrageously introverted, there is still a lot to be revealed about the flagship species of the Daintree, so here are a few things we do know:

Living large: They are big birds; the southern cassowary is the largest forest bird in the world. And also the second heaviest bird weighing in at 70 kg. Third tallest after the ostrich and emu at around 1.8 m – that’s a lot of bird!

Prehistoric turkeys: Some may say, others may suggest they look terrifyingly similar to the velociraptors in the Jurassic Park movies – both views are kind of correct. The Cassowary is one of the closest living species to dinosaurs, and they definitely do look the part.

Who runs the world? Girls! Queen C or the female Cassowary leaves the child rearing to the men - she’ll lay the eggs then she’s done. The male sits on the nest to incubate the eggs for up to 60 days. For the next 16 months he feeds, protects, and teaches them the ways of the world until they can take care of themselves! Daddy day care.

Gardening Australia: Costa’s beard does somewhat resemble that of a Cassowary. Like Costa, Cassowaries are great gardeners, so much so that the Daintree Rainforest would look dramatically different without them. They are considered a key stone species performing a very important duty. After eating fruit whole like the Cassowary plum, their digestive system keeps the seeds intact, they then disperse their seed filled “fertilizer” into new areas of the rainforest.

Fight or flight: Considering they are a flightless bird, Cassowaries will fight when push comes to shove. They have a notorious reputation for being the most dangerous bird in the world and that comes from ghastly claw that provokes their fearsome side. The Cassowary can slice open any predator or potential threat with a single swift kick. Best to admire from afar.

A helmet full of fingernails: The crazy headgear sported by the Cassowary is called a casque. Although it looks menacing, the casque is made of a sponge-like material and covered with a thick layer of keratin, the same thing our fingernails are made of. It is still a bit of a puzzle as to what purpose the casque serves. Some say it’s for heat regulation, it could be a show of dominance, or used for communication, no one but the Cassowary really knows.

Fruit cocktails: Cassowaries are frugivores which means they dine mainly on fruits and berries that fall to the ground. A typical southern Cassowary can eat up to 11 pounds of fruit a day, that’s enough to keep anyone regular. Their droppings usually contain half-digested fruit with plenty of nutritional value so the bird will eat each other’s, well you can use your imagination – fruit smoothie anyone?

A sign of the times: On the drive up to Cape Tribulation there are many Cassowary warning signs usually accompanied by one that warns of speed bumps. A prank monkey decided to add the words ‘before’ and ‘after’ and turned the bottom one into a Cassowary lying flat on its back. A timely reminder and wonderful for awareness because we need to …

Be Cass – o – wary: Sadly, these stunningly odd yet beautiful Cassowaries are in decline in Australia and this is mainly due to human activities. So let’s help prevent this and keep their numbers up, by driving slowly when in Cassowary territory and by never feeding or approaching a Cassowary.

If you see a Cassowary in trouble, (injured, distressed or an orphaned chick), and you need assistance call the 24-hour hotline 1300 130 372