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All Creatures,

Episode 79: Cassowary, Called a Living Dinosaur

March 19, 2019

One of the largest birds on Earth, the Cassowary is a flagship species for the rain forests in which they live. Impressive animals that serve a critical ecological role to both Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Cassowary Description

Cassowaries belong to ratites, or flightless birds that are often referred to as “living dinosaurs”.  These include Africa’s Ostrich, South America’s Rheas, Australia’s Emu, and New Zealand’s Kiwi. These birds have been evolving for over 70 million years and their ancient ancestors date back to the days of the “non-avian” dinosaurs.

There are three separate species:

  • Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius)
  • Dwarf Cassowary ( C. bennetti)
  • Northern Cassowary ( C. unappenducualis)

Cassowary Facts

These birds can live 40 to 50 years, but in the wild may only average 20 years. While having a dangerous reputation, especially due to the razor-sharp claw, the Cassowary can only be linked to one human death in the last 100 years. However, they can be dangerous, especially when attacked, cornered or when defending their nest or young.

The male Cassowary is undoubtably one of nature’s greatest fathers. Once the female Cassowary lays her egg, she abandons it to the male who incubates it for 60 days. Once the young hatch, the male will stay and raise his young until they reach adulthood, without any assistance from the female. Bravo male Cassowaries!!

Other facts include:

  • Can leap 5 feet into the air
  • Stand 6 feet (2 m) tall
  • Weigh up to 125 lbs (60 kg); second heaviest bird on Earth
  • Eat from over 238 different plants
  • Digestion of fruit by a Cassowary is critical to certain species of plants. For example, the Ryparosa tree from Australia, needs the Cassowary to digest its fruit, which greatly helps its ability to germinate

Cassowary Conservation

While overall the Cassowary is considered Least Concern by the IUCN, within Australia they are considered endangered. Overall, all three species are experiencing a decline in population. In Australia, the Southern Cassowary was reduced to about 1000 birds, but due to focused conservation efforts, their population is now over 4000 birds.

Conservation Tips

The United Nations estimates that approximately one-third of all food produced goes to waste. One common wastage is that of spoiled or rotten fruit. Below is a list of how to better preserve some of the more common fruits.

  • Apples– Apples are ethylene gas producers so store away from other produce. They can be stored on the counter for up to a week or in the fridge for more than a week.
  • Avocados – Ripen on the counter then store in the refrigerator.
  • Bananas– Keep green bananas out of the refrigerator and let them ripen on the counter or a banana hanger.
  • Berries– Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries are delicate and should not be washed until ready to eat. Keep in refrigerator in dry, covered containers.
  • Cherries & Grapes– Store in refrigerator, unwashed, in their packaged plastic containers or plastic bags until ready to wash and eat.
  • Citrus fruit – Extend the shelf life of clementines, grapefruit, lemons, limes and oranges by storing them in the crisper drawer or in a mesh bag in the refrigerator.
  • Tomatoes – Always store at room temperature as the refrigerator will make them rot quickly. Keep loose in a bowl away from sun or heat (like the stove.)

Organizations to Support

Save the Cassowary

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