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Animals & Attractions

Southern Cassowary

We have two southern cassowaries.  Billy, a male born in 2002 and Sydney, a female born in 2003.

Our keepers don’t normally work in the cassowaries’ enclosure with the birds present, as they are potentially dangerous: cassowaries have a 12cm (4.7 inch) dagger-like inner toe and can deliver powerful two-footed kicks at anyone they think might be a “threat” to them or their chicks!

Breeding Programme Category:

Our cassowaries are part of the European Stud Book (ESB) programme.

Held by Avifauna in the Netherlands, there are around 100 cassowaries at 45 collections in this programme. Like other ratites (flightless birds such as ostrich and rhea) it is the male that incubates the eggs and there is a special area in the enclosure designed for this behaviour.

Find out more

Status

Not Endangered NE
Data Deficient DD
Least Concern LC
Near Threatened NT
Vulnerable VU
Endangered EN
Critically Endangered CR
Extinct in the wild EW
Extinct EX

Vulnerable

For more info on classifications visit www.iucnredist.org

Size

Relative to 6ft (2m) man Relative to 6ft (2m) man

Population

6000
to15000
IUCN May 2012

Habitat

  • Rainforests

    Rainforests

Diet

Omnivore Omnivore
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In The Wild

Inhabiting the tropical and sub-tropical forests of New Guinea and northern Australia, the southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius)is also known as the double-wattled cassowary and is one of 3 cassowary species.

They have a glossy black plumage on its body and a bright blue neck, with two wattles of red coloured skin hanging down from the throat. Cassowaries have powerful legs and long feet with 3 toes; the inner toe on each foot has a sharp claw that can reach up to 80 millimetres in length.

The name cassowary comes from a Papuan name meaning ‘horned head’, referring to the helmet of tough skin borne on the crown of the head. This helmet slopes backwards and is used to push through vegetation as it runs through the rainforest with its head down. It also reflects age and dominance. The sexes are similar in appearance, although females tend to be larger and heavier. Chicks are striped black and cream, fading to brown after around five months. The adult colouring and helmet begin to develop between two and four years of age.

Cassowaries mainly feed on fruit that has fallen to the forest floor but will also eat rodents and small birds. They are a “keystone” species: one that many other animals and plants depend upon in a habitat. This is because cassowaries eat a wide variety of forest fruits and disperse the intact seeds in their droppings. As they are the only animal capable of eating some forest fruits due to their large size, these trees depend entirely upon cassowaries to reproduce and spread.

Cassowaries are usually solitary birds and the female is dominant over the male when they meet. Females may lay several clutches of eggs during the breeding season, which runs from June to October. These are laid onto the forest floor and the male then takes sole responsibility for their care. The male incubates the eggs for around 50 days, turning the eggs and only leaving the eggs in order to drink. He cares for his offspring for up to 16 months, protecting them under his tail if threatened.

The southern cassowary population in the wild is thought to be up to 20,000 adult birds. However, there is evidence that they are in decline, primarily due to habitat loss, hunting, road traffic accidents and predation by dogs.

Southern Cassowary - Main Panel
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