The under appreciated animals podcast is a wildlife podcast all about shining a spotlight on the animals that don’t get talked about as often as they should be.
In this episode we’re talking about the incredible cassowary
• how tall they are
• why they're so important to the rainforest
• and why I'm just a little bit scared of them
and loads more!
Dreamtime story about how the cassowary got it's casque
Music: Outdoors In Summer by Shane Ivers - https://www.silvermansound.com
[intro music]Hello and welcome to the under appreciated animals podcast with Hatchling Makes. An animal themed podcast filled with fun facts about species that aren’t always the main feature in nature documentaries but are getting a chance in the spotlight because they are amazing and they deserve some attention too.
My name is Tash Hatcher and I am a wildlife artist and life long animal lover. I run a small business called Hatchling Makes where I sell wildlife inspired enamel pins and stickers and every sale helps to raise money for wildlife conservation!
In each episode of this show I’ll be chatting about a different under appreciated animal. From horseshoe crabs to cassowaries to rock hyraxes and everything in between. I’ll be sharing fun facts and telling you all about these incredible species from where they’re found to what they eat to just what makes them so special. And hopefully by the end of the episode you’ll love them just as much as I do.
Before we go any further I do want to add in a tiny disclaimer! I am not a wildlife professional in any way shape or form. I am just an extreme animal lover, but I will do my very best to research these creatures to the best of my abilities so I can bring you their stories as accurately as possible.
So without further ado, let’s dive on in to todays episode!
Hello hello and welcome to episode 5 of the under appreciated animals podcast! We’re already at 5 episodes! I still pinch myself more often than not that I have a podcast and that people listen to it - thank you so so much for being here, for continuing to tune in if you’re a long time listener or for tuning in for the first time if you’re a new listener!
I feel like today’s animal is one of those marmite animals - either you absolutely love them or you are totally terrified of them. And honestly I can see both sides! Today I’m going to be chatting all about the incredible cassowary - and if you couldn’t tell from how I just introduced them, I am definitely on Team Love!
These are another of those Australian animals I’ve just grown up with and another animal that you can see in loads of zoos around the world! I always get so excited when I see cassowaries at zoos - they do scare me a little in person, I won’t lie. I think my flight or fight instinct kicks in when I see them and there’s not many animals that do that to me, I do sort of want to give them all the space they need! Haha. But they are amazing and I hope you agree! So let’s get into it then!
As I mentioned, cassowaries are an Australian animal but they can also be found on Papua New Guinea and some surrounding islands! They’re found in tropical rainforests and in Australia they’re found up in the top right of the map, in northern Queensland, which is just an absolutely stunning corner of the world. I was very lucky to be able to go there with Mr H, my husband, on our honeymoon! Actually one of the greatest regrets of my life is that we had an option to go on a tour to go see cassowaries in the wild and we didn’t do it, I think instead we went snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, which admittedly was amazing but I wish we had been able to do both.
That being said, cassowaries are very very elusive birds, which you wouldn’t think considering their size. So there’s no guarantee we would have seen one anyways!
There’s 3 subspecies of cassowaries, the northern cassowary, southern cassowary and dwarf cassowary - though the name is a bit of a misnomer if you ask me cause the dwarf cassowary is around 100 to 130cm tall which is still pretty big for a bird if you ask me!
So as you can imagine, cassowaries are pretty large birds. They are the second heaviest bird in the world after the ostrich and the 3rd tallest bird after the ostrich and the emu! I was really struggling to figure out how to explain how they look cause they really are so distinctive, the best that I can do is imagine an ostrich that’s a weight lifter. If you haven’t already seen the Disney movie, Fantasia, ostriches are depicted in one of the musical numbers as ballerinas, I feel like if cassowaries were involved they would have been like heavy weight boxers. So imagine the same sort of bird body as an ostrich but with a thicker neck and then the head is a little like a rooster and they have the same tall legs as an ostrich but more like tree trunks. I feel like if you’re looking for the link between dinosaurs and modern birds the cassowary is that missing link!
Cassowaries are also so colourful, they have this gorgeous blue-black feathers over their body but then their heads and neck have no feathers at all and are bright blue. Northern and southern cassowaries also have wattles which are like the floppy skin bits hanging down from their necks, and they’re really brightly coloured, normally red or yellow, but they can actually change depending on the mood of the individuals!
As always I’ve drawn a cassowary - a southern cassowary specifically - for the artwork of this episode so you can take a look at that if you’re listening to this very muddled description and thinking “what on earth?”. Go and look at that and then come back to the rest of this episode!
Cassowaries also have this incredible casque on their heads and a casque is a kind of scaly bit of their heads that you can find sometimes on birds. So hornbills for example have casques and some lizards actually have casques too. They can come in all sorts of shapes, the casque on a cassowary typically looks like a sort of a half an oval that’s growing out of the skull. And these casques are a bit of a mystery, for a long time it really wasn’t clear why they had them. And there were loads of theories ranging from things like they protect the heads of the cassowary as they walk through the rainforest or they use it to forage in the leaf litter. But in 2019 a study was made by some researchers from La Trobe University which suggested that they’re actually a way for the cassowaries to regulate their body temperatures, cause they have a large surface area so they can dispel heat quicker through it, and honestly that makes the most sense to me!
Just as a side note there’s actually a beautiful Aboriginal Dreamtime story about how the cassowary got it’s casque and I won’t rely the story in this episode but if you have the time to read it, I think it’s just so wonderfully lovely and I’ll pop a link to a version of it into the show notes.
Cassowaries are rainforest dwellers and that helps with their elusive nature cause they can just hide in amongst the trees. They’re fruit eaters and are incredibly important for seed dispersal - they’re actually considered the protector of the rainforests because some fruit seeds won’t germinate until the fruit has been eaten by the cassowary and passed through it’s digestive system. So they’re so incredibly important to the life of the rainforests.
So cassowaries, being birds, obviously they lay eggs. They generally have between 3 to 5 eggs per clutch - and the eggs are this gorgeous green colour and it’s the 3rd largest bird egg that gets laid in the world. Honestly it looks like a huge avocado! Cassowaries are solitary until it comes to mating season, and then once the female lays the eggs, she’s off! She heads on out and then the male does all the incubation for the eggs and also brings up the chicks! Incubation lasts about 50 days and during this time the male cassowaries can be super aggressive as it’s protecting its eggs. Cassowary chicks are adorable and they have a striped coat - a bit like a baby tapir this helps them to hide in the rainforest. And they’ll keep the striped coat for 3 years before their adult plumage grows in!
Cassowaries can jump really high - 1 and a half metres into the air to be exact and they can do this from a standing position and then also kick at the same time. They’re basically the street fighters of the bird world. Then on top of that they’re also super fast and can run up to 50km an hour. So I think you can see now why I’m wary of them! Cassowaries also have a claw on their inner toe that’s basically like carrying a mini dagger with them so you definitely don’t want them kicking you cause not only will you get kicked in the face but they’ll also stab you at the same time!
Now cassowaries are considered to be the most dangerous birds in the world and are listed as that in the Guinness World Records. But they’ve actually only ever killed one person in Australia and that was a kid in the 1920s who was allegedly attacking the bird with dogs. You’re actually more likely to be killed by a horse in Australia than a cassowary. And a lot of that is just how remote and elusive cassowaries are. After the poor kid in the 1920s, there wasn’t another human death related to cassowaries until 2019 when an exotic pet owner was attacked by his pet cassowary. And once again that just goes to show that these are wild animals and not pets, folks!
There’s very little overlap in human-cassowary habitats. Though that is changing over time as the cassowaries rainforests are being cut down to make way for housing and humans start going to beaches in cassowary territory. Both northern and southern cassowaries are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and dwarf cassowaries are listed as near threatened. In addition to them losing their habitat, cassowaries have been hunted by humans and their feathers were highly prized too. They’re actually still hunted for food today and of course because of the elusiveness of their nests, any eggs fetch really high prices too. That being said though they are highly respected by Aboriginal tribes and other indigenous groups so hunting is very much done out of necessity.
So I think on that note I’m going to end this episode here. Don’t forget to check the show notes for a link to the Dreamtime story about how the cassowary got it’s casque - it’s not very long but just is such a great story. I’ve always loved Dreamtime stories about animals. And I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s episode! I’m going to be totally honest folks I’m a bit busy at the minute with the holidays coming up which is always a busy time for my small business so I’m hoping I can stick to my uploading schedule but if not please bear with me! Thank you as always for listening and I’ll see you in the next episode!
[music plays under Tash talking] Thank you so much for listening to the under appreciated animals podcast. I hope you found this episode fun and interesting and if you did then please reach out! Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
If you love animals and would like to help support this podcast, you can check out my website for my small business, Hatchling Makes, which you can find at hatchling makes dot com or if you head to the show notes I’ll leave a link there. It’s got wildlife inspired enamel pins, and stickers, and stationery and all that good stuff. Plus 10% of every sale is donated to wildlife conservation.
Also if you have a moment to leave me a review I would be super grateful! That really helps me to know that I’m sharing the animal stories that you want to hear!
You can also discover more under appreciated animals by listening to other episodes which are available wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to subscribe whilst you’re there so you don’t miss out on any future episodes. New episodes will come out every other week on a Friday.
I’m also taking animal suggestions so hop on over into the show notes to find out how to do that if you have an animal you’d like me to highlight on this show! Bonus points if you mention one that I have never heard of before!
That’s all from me until next time take care folks!