How many cassowaries are there in the Wet Tropics?

Cassowary, Photo: Campbell Clarke

The Wet Tropics is home to about 4,400 cassowaries, with a minimum of five percent being the year’s youngsters. The figure is based on several years of monitoring and DNA analysis by Dr David Westcott and his team of researchers at CSIRO under the National Environmental Research Program.

Their Wet Tropics surveys  covered 1886 kilometres and 156 transects. They recorded 1444 cassowary signs (dung, feathers, tracks and sightings). They also did 170 surveys of focus sites and recorded 296 signs of cassowaries. The DNA of 435 sub-samples was analysed from 134 different dung samples.

Management implications

Cassowary juvenile, Photo: Campbell Clarke

What do the population numbers mean for cassowary conservation?

  • The population estimate is consistent with the upper range of previous estimates undertaken 20 years ago.
  • While these cassowary population numbers are larger than have been often quoted, they are still small enough to place the cassowary at risk from chance events such as cyclones, genetic effects, and increasingly fragmented habitat.
  • The conservation status of the cassowary remains endangered and populations are likely to decrease if habitat fragmentation worsens and cyclones become more intense or more frequent with climate change.
  • Future investment in cassowary management should focus on cassowary habitat protection and connectivity.
  • A regular cassowary monitoring program (for local focus sites and the Wet Tropics region) is essential to track population trends and life histories.
  • Cassowary monitoring with Traditional Owners in Cape York should be established to survey the increasingly fragmented populations in areas such as the McIlwraith Range.
Project 3.4 Final Report - Estimation of the population size and distribution of the southern cassowary, Casuarius casuarius, in the Wet Tropics Region of Australia

Project 3.4 Final Report – Estimation of the population size and distribution of the southern cassowary, Casuarius casuarius, in the Wet Tropics Region of Australia

 

You can download the full report above or visit the NERP website for more information.

Reference: Westcott, D., Metcalfe, S., Jones, D., Bradford, M., McKeown, A., Ford, A. (2014) Estimation of the population size and distribution of the southern cassowary, Casuarius casuarius, in the Wet Tropics Region of Australia Project © CSIRO

Inside the cassowary’s casque

Casowary-uniappendiculatus

Scientific American published Inside the cassowary’s casque by Darren Naish on its blog on 15 February 2015.

The article discusses the evolution of the various cassowary species and the anatomy of the cassowary casque and how it may be used. It emphasises that we still have a lot to learn about all these facets of cassowary research.

You can also download a copy of the research below:

Darren Naish & Richard Perron (2014) Structure and function of the cassowary’s casque and its implications for cassowary history, biology and evolution

Mission Beach Cassowaries

Mission Beach Cassowaries website Photo: Liz Gallie

Mission Beach Cassowaries website Photo: Liz Gallie

The Mission Beach Cassowaries website and  Facebook page offer a wealth of information about cassowaries. They collect daily information about local birds and their movements and behaviour. The site has over 900 members who can contribute stories, sightings and photos. Cassowary sightings and incidents are recorded and mapped to help us understand more about their behaviour and promote their conservation.

Mission Beach Cassowaries plays a major role in community education and participation in cassowary conservation. It also contributes to local government planning and campaigns to prevent further cassowary deaths from road accidents and dog attacks.

Visit the Mission Beach Cassowaries website for more information and join in the discussions on its Facebook page.

MissionBeachCassowaries

 

Cassowary breeding season

Male cassowary and chick, Photo: Tony Kennedy

Male cassowary and chick, Photo: Tony Kennedy

It’s cassowary breeding season and time to watch out for young chicks wandering around with dad. Some of the messages we want local communities to heed are:

  • Some fathers are still sitting on eggs and are vulnerable to dogs. Please keep dogs restrained and report any dogs roaming in cassowary territory to the local council.
  • Please don’t feed young chicks and allow them to develop bad habits. These habits can become more dangerous for cassowaries and people as they mature and become more aggressive and dominant.
  • Keep an extra eye out on the road because the chicks may be trailing behind the adult father.
  • There may also be a few young adults around looking for territory and still getting used to being on their own. They too are vulnerable to dogs and traffic.
  • Recent road crossing hotspots on the Cassowary Coast include Flying Fish Point, Mourilyan Harbour, Etty Bay Road, Jubilee Road, Bramston Beach Road, Coquette Point Road, Tully-Mission Beach Road, and Alexander Drive, and Mission Beach.
Sub-adult cassowary crossing the road, Photo: Deb Pople

Sub-adult cassowary crossing the road, Photo: Deb Pople

 

Karl the Cassowary

Karl the Cassowary

Cassowary crossing the road at Mission Beach (Photo: Geoff Larson)

Paul Webster has released his new song, Karl the Cassowary, to highlight the plight of the endangered southern cassowary, in particular those that are wandering along roadsides.

Have a listen to Karl the Cassowary and look up other cassowary TV videos on You Tube. See the lyrics below.

 

Karl the Cassowary (lyrics)

I’ve no more time to wait for my redemption
So I popped my head up roadside to get all your attention
I’ve got three chicks and a track well worn
You may have seen me on Kuranda Range just around dawn

CHORUS
Big as a man blue, black & red
I got a great big horn in the middle of my head
My name’s Karl but friends all call me horny
It’s so scary being the last southern cassowary
If you don’t treat us fairly you won’t even see us rarely
Standing on the side of the road with my three little chicks in tow

I’m a single dad with three chickadees
Keystone species of the jungle I spread round all the seeds
I like figs and plums and candlenuts
When it comes to quandong I just can’t get enough

CHORUS

If you don’t want me to go the way of the Commodore
Why don’t you build me & the kids a wildlife corridor
Took most of my land with your big bulldozer
Now what’s the plan, simply run us all over?

It’s so scary being the last southern cassowary
If you don’t treat us fairly you won’t even see us rarely
Standing on the side of the road I got nowhere else to go
Standing on the side of the road. Well where’s a cassowary to go?

Cassowary capture, tagging and tracking

Attachment of a GPS data logger

Attachment of a GPS data logger

The Australian Veterinary Journal has published a paper on successful methods for cassowary immobilisation, restraint, transport and satellite tracking. The paper outlines the use of anaesthetics for safe handling of adult and juvenile cassowaries taken into captivity and released back into the wild.

The paper also details safe ways to transport cassowaries and to attach satellite trackers to monitor their movements after release back into their natural environment. Monitoring indicates that the released cassowaries suffered no behavioural ill-effects from the chemical immobilisation, restraint or transport.

 The cross marks the spot for needle entry for the anaesthetic.

The cross marks the spot for needle entry for the anaesthetic.

This is one of the first studies to use satellite telemetry to monitor the movements of a free-ranging large ratite. Future monitoring of released cassowaries can help to tell us a lot about their movements and behaviour. Longer term satellite studies are required to assess if the birds successfully locate and establish a home range and develop into breeding adults.

The authors of the study are Hamish Campbell (UNE), Ross Dwyer (UQ), Scott Sullivan (QPWS), Dan Mead (QPWS) and Graham Lauridsen (Tropical Vet Services, Tully).

 

You can download a copy of the paper below:

Chemical immobilisation and satellite tagging of free-living southern cassowaries