Zoo and Aquarium Association Cassowary Husbandry Workshop

The Zoo and Aquarium Association hosted a cassowary husbandry workshop on 3-4 August 2011 to update the Cassowary Husbandry Manual (Romer Ed. 1997) with the latest information about all aspects of the captive management of the Southern Cassowary. The primary aim of the document will be to update and improve captive cassowary husbandry and management across the board, and it will be freely shared with all establishments housing Southern Cassowaries, and with those who work with, or would like to work with, the species. 

The workshop was well attended by Zoo and Aquarium Association members, and DERM, and also number of international representatives working with cassowaries overseas.


The last Cassowary Husbandry Manual was produced as a result of a workshop held in 1997 and although a lot of the information collected for that document is still useful, recent developments in record keeping, medicine and surgery, husbandry, handling and transport etc, means that we better understand the needs of captive birds and where further research is required. Historical records and knowledge of a species’ natural history also play a vital role in our understanding those needs. Since 1997, advances in the field of information technology have facilitated the compilation of known literature pertaining to cassowaries, allowing us to ground our practical knowledge in the available empirical scientific literature.


The workshop outcomes were designed and guided by several main topics which will be incorporated into the existing chapters of the revised manual (Biggs, unpublished) prior to completion around June 2012. Participants explored general husbandry, housing, handling, health, reproduction, behaviour, nutrition, artificial incubation and rearing, and the use of Cassowaries as a conservation tool. Invitations were offered to full members, associate members and non-members of the Zoo and Aquarium Association, including a number of representatives from the Department of Environment and Resource Management, Population Managers for the North American and European Studbooks, and Veterinarians who have specialised in Cassowary care.

Location and Timetable

The workshop ran for two days and was held at Dreamworld, Gold Coast, from 3rd-4th August 2011. See attached agenda for timetable.


The workshop was organized at minimal expense. Costs borne by the participating institutions included accommodation and travel to South-East Queensland. No other expenses were paid by participating institutions. Al Mucci, Dreamworld, sought funding from the Zoo and Aquarium Association Queensland Branch at the request of James to the value of $1000 to pay for transfers of participants to and from the accommodation and for refreshments and meals throughout the workshop. Additional break-time activities were arranged at no additional cost. The cost of a facilitator was borne by the Zoo and Aquarium Association.


A significant hurdle for many institutions and individuals was the availability of funding to attend the workshop.


Natural history of the species was not a focus of this workshop, as the current literature, although limited, is sufficient for the production of the manual.





by James Biggs, Southern Cassowary Species Coordinator; and Clancy Hall, Studbook Keeper; impromptu by Nicole LaGreco AZA Population Manager, San Diego Zoo


Executive Summary: Non-recommended transfers occurred; 2 new founders; 90% of recommendations attempted; 10% achieved; F = 0.000

Priorities for Program: Reconfirm commitment to program by ASMP participating institutions and associate members; run husbandry workshop; identify institutions willing to hold 2.1.0 to allow mate choice trials; finalize and circulate revised Cassowary Husbandry Manual; provide institutions with studbook extracts; review and collate captive breeding techniques.

General Recommendations: No further recruitment of birds from outside of the current ASMP population unless the opportunity to acquire known wild origin founders presents itself;  Limit reproduction of prioritised pairing to one clutch per pairing within the time frame to promote genetic diversity without compromising available regional spaces;  ALL animal movements to be coordinated through the Species Coordinator;  Discourage reproductive events from specimens other than prioritized pairings in the PMP;  Institutions to provide regular updates to ensure studbook to remains current;  Institutions that have specimens placed on historical loan to non-member institutions to review loan agreements and ensure that there is the potential for a percentage of offspring to be recruited back into the program as required.

Studbook Brief: History of studbook.

Husbandry Goals: Achieve reliable, consistent breeding in line with recommendations;  Management practice aligns with species life history.

Demographic Goals: Potential to achieve target population by breeding or acquisition of wild birds.

Genetic Goals: Retain at least 90% gene diversity over 50 years;  Maintain inbreeding coefficients at or below F = 0.125

Recruitment and Placement of Founders; Facilities Available: QSMP discussion;  ZAA & ZAAQ discussion.

Developments – Research News & AZA: CSIRO, JCU, EthoTrak, Ultrasonography.  Nicole LaGreco.

Concerns: Quiescent program; possibility of Inbreeding; non-recommended transfers.



by Adam Northam, Department of Environment and Resource Management


Conservation Status & Distribution

Cassowary Recovery, Cyclone Yasi – DERM’s initial response:  Assessment of the QPWS Cassowary Rehabilitation Facility- Garners Beach (infrastructure and birds);  Establishment of a Cassowary Incident Management Team;  A collaborative aerial habitat assessment including transects flown between Innisfail to Cardwell Range- CSIRO, WTMA;  Aerial food drops to encourage cassowaries not to venture into urban areas/ near busy roads- Approx 1000kg;  Preparation for a supplementary feeding program- liaison with  food suppliers, purchase of equipment etc.

Cyclone Yasi – Supplementary Feeding Program:  94 Active Feed stations.  Total fruit delivered 74 359kg.  2554 volunteer hours.  84 scats collected.  55 feeding exemptions issued.  Budget forecast 2.7million (18 month program).

Captive Management:  DERM’s priority for supporting cassowary recovery is to direct available resources towards in-situ conservation projects eg. Responding to natural disasters, threat abatement, habitat protection and management, undertaking ‘in house’ research projects and/or collaboration with external stakeholders; To supplement wild populations, DERM undertakes the rehabilitation and release of wild sick, injured and orphaned animals at the Cassowary Rehabilitation Centre (Garners Beach).

DERM’s Support for ZAA Managed Programs:  DERM actively supports the Queensland Species Management Plan (QSMP) and considers this to be the primary tool for determining priority placement for non-releasable cassowaries; Post Cyclone Larry DERM placed 3 cassowaries with ZAAQ members via the QSMP process;  1 cassowary placement between cyclones;  To date 1 cassowary has been placed with a ZAAQ member post Cyclone Yasi.



by Carolyn Hogg, Zoo and Aquarium Association; Chris Hibbard, Zoo and Aquarium Association; and, Clancy Hall, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary


Studbook Analysis:  Conducted crude analysis of the historical studbook and of birds that have produced 5 or more successful clutches to get a better idea of which birds are actually breeding.

Determinations that have implications for captive management:  Seasonality; viability of hatched eggs; average size of successful clutch; age at peak reproduction; how long after introduction are birds successfully producing;

Results:  Cassowaries will breed (hatch eggs) from September-January in captivity – this will impact when introductions should be attempted; viability of chicks hatching and surviving past one year = 1 chick per clutch – this will impact genetic and demographic analyses in PM2000; average size of successful clutch is recorded as 1 in the studbook, however this may be due to the fact that only hatched eggs are recorded, as opposed to total number of eggs in a clutch;  female peak reproduction 9-16 years old, male peak reproduction 8-15 years old – James will incorporate age data when recommending pairings and include MK values and F statistics;  successful pairs are breeding 2 years after being in the same facility

Requirements of Program: Prioritize breeding of birds between 8-16 years; Start more mate-choice programs; Consider increasing our established F statistic parameter from 0.125 to 0.25 to increase number of breeding events; Start ‘stirring the pot’ – Reproductive assessment of birds that are paired but not producing fertile eggs and move birds if breeding is unsuccessful after a few years; Protocol to determine fertility of eggs; Egg post-mortem protocol; Determine whether infrasound plays an important role in the lead up to breeding season; Consider surrogacy of eggs if parents are unsuitable.




  • DERM has post mortem protocol for use by zoo industry;
  • Need to determine whether infrasound plays an important role in communication;
  • DERM has ‘back-score rating’ –  physiological assessment of condition visually, for use by zoo industry – James to further develop;
  • Agreed to regularly weigh to develop optimum weight range database;
  • Concurred that hormones are affecting appetite throughout breeding season;
  • Concurred that Cassowaries are not strict frugivores.


  • Interested institutions to implement EthoTrak;
  • Developed pre-breeding behaviour list to provide carers with cues for successful introductions;
  • Developed enrichment list;
  • Developed behavioural and environmental checklist for introductions and breeding events;
  • Developed records template for reproductive behaviour, physiological and environmental data
  • Developed a more specific sexual, social and agonistic ethogram for captive birds.


  • Developed safe enclosure template to facilitate mate-choice trials, adult separation, chick safety and keeper safety – all dynamics discussed and agreed upon.


  • Obtained growth development data from AZA;
  • Established the need to develop clinical database of illnesses, injuries, treatments etc.;
  • Inclusion of ultrasonography in medical assessment pre inclusion in program;
  • Developed checklist for behavioural signs of disease.


  • Revised adult diet to match components from CTZ, ARP, Fleays, Australia Zoo, Currumbin – what to feed, what not to feed;
  • Identified capacity of Cassowaries to consume toxic foods;
  • Revised juvenile diet.


  • Revised egg management, when eggs should be considered infertile, and developed protocol to remove eggs;
  • Established parameters for data to collect from eggs;
  • Developed method to check fertility of eggs;
  • Developed egg post mortem protocol;
  • Consider removing food as a trigger?;
  • Developed protocol for pair formation;
  • Seasonality and when to introduce birds;
  • See Behaviour section.


  • Institutions to consider surrogacy between species and institutions;
  • Identified sources to contribute to this area – CTZ, ARP, Denver Zoo, Ratite farms.


  • Uniform transport box to be developed to facilitate easy inter-institutional movements;
  • Developed protocols for conditioning birds for transport;
  • Developed protocols for chemical and manual restraint of adult birds for medical assessment and transport;
  • Training seminars and practical experience opportunities to be developed and arranged by DERM for Cassowary carers.


  • Developed standard data to present in interpretive displays and campaign material;
  • Part of campaign funds to be donated to DERM for monitoring work.