The cassowary is the third largest bird in the world, and resides on the mainland of Australia and in New Guinea. Two subspecies live in New Guinea, the Northern Cassowary and the Dwarf Cassowary. The third species, the Double-Wattled or Southern Cassowary, lives in both Northern Australia and New Guinea. Of these species, the Southern and Northern are both considered threatened, and the Australian government has devoted much time and effort to protecting their habitats. There are very few captive cassowaries in Australia, only about 40 in total.
The cassowary has a striking appearance. The body feathers are a deep black, and the neck is usually bright blue. The bird has a crowned bony head called a casque, which is useful for clearing underbrush as it strides through low branches. Their appearance is comparable to the dinosaurs from which they may have descended. Particularly, their sharp, three toed claws resemble oviraptors and velociraptors.
Cassowaries are quite tall, the largest standing 6 feet (1.82 m), and can weigh up to 130 pounds (approx 59 kg). The birds are also fast runners and have been clocked at over 30 mph (48.27 kpm) in short distances. They can also jump 5 feet (1.52m) in the air. The dwarf variety is about half the size of the Southern and Northern types, and is less aggressive.
These birds are solitary, which is just as well for humans. There has been some recent footage on a cassowary attack of several humans that resulted in the death of a zookeeper. In general, a cassowary will usually attack if provoked, but since they are so unpredictable and potentially lethal, there are now wildlife areas that forbid human entry. Most of the recorded attacks, however, are provoked attacks on dogs.
With further habitat encroachment, it appears that the cassowary may also be losing its fear of humans. There has been an upsurge in the number of cassowary/human interactions. More and more cassowaries seem to be wandering into inhabited areas, creating potential trouble.
When left fully alone in the wild, the cassowary can live for upwards of 50 years. The unmolested areas of Northern Australia and New Guinea provide an excellent dietary range for the omnivorous birds. They will eat fruits, insects, lizards, snakes and small rodents, and are considered excellent hunters.
Unlike the emu, which can be very docile, no one is anxious to cultivate or breed cassowaries, though their potential danger has launched a tourist industry to view the birds from protected settings. The temperament of the cassowary has discouraged entrepreneurs from attempting to market their very large, green-blue eggs, which are 3-5 inches (7-12 cm) in length.
As with many birds, the cassowary female does not raise her young. Instead, the male bird incubates the eggs for roughly two months and takes care of the babies for about nine months, thereafter. The cassowary is considered fully grown at approximately three years old, and mating begins upon reaching maturity. The cassowary is also monogamous, so a pair may enjoy a 40-year “marriage,” when humans do not interfere.