Can the Cassowaries weather Yasi’s storm?

Posted on Posted in feathered, North QLD
We’ve all seen footage of the destruction cyclone Yasi caused in northern Queensland recently. In particular, the ancient rainforests surrounding Mission Beach and along the ‘Cassowary coast’ have been severely damaged.
The dense rainforests of Mission Beach - before (top) and after (bottom) cyclone Yasi

The Cassowary coast is home to one of the last populations of endangered Southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius). The Cassowary is a true icon of our rainforests; however, Queensland populations are becoming increasingly vulnerable, due to habitat loss and fragmentation associated with urbanisation. As few as 1200-1500 Cassowaries remain in Queensland, while the dwindling Mission Beach population is estimated to be around 110 individuals.

Dan and some fresh Cassowary dung full of digested seeds

Cassowaries are highly adapted to rainforests, and play a key role in maintaining the diversity of rainforest vegetation. Their diet predominantly consists of fruit – from up to 238 species of plants! Due to their large size they can swallow most fruits whole, digest them and distribute the seeds via their dung. Some rainforest plants actually require dispersal from Cassowaries – these include the rare Ryparosa tree and the Cassowary plum (Cerbera floribunda). Many other animals feast on the seeds in Cassowary dung, such as the Fawn-footed Melomys (Melomys cervinipes) and the Musky Rat-kangaroo (Hypsiprymnodon moschatus).

The damaging effects of cyclone Yasi are likely to have far reaching consequences for the rainforests and resident Cassowaries:

Food shortages cause malnourishment, forcing Cassowaries to roam into urban areas in search of food, making them vulnerable to car strikes, dog attacks etc.

Reduced habitat may increase conflict between territorial males, and increase the chances of disease outbreak

Loss of suitable food and breeding habitat may disrupt annual breeding events (June – Oct.)

A reduction in rainforest vegetation is likely, as fewer Cassowaries disperse seeds and aid in propagation

One of the iconic road signs along the Cassowary coast highlights the extensive cyclone damage to pristine rainforest habitat

35% of Mission Beach Cassowaries died as a direct result of cyclone Larry; and alarming research indicates that the occurrence of a cyclone may double the chance of isolated populations becoming extinct. Considering the severity of cyclone Yasi, it is likely that the Cassowary toll will be devastating.

Bob Irwin has just launched a campaign to raise funds and awareness for the ‘Cassowary coast’ Cassowaries. Click here for more information, or to donate.

Click here to view the current recovery plan for the Southern Cassowary, or to report a Cassowary sighting.

Male Cassowary and his chicks attemepting to cross the road