Twelve months ago, BIG readers were asked if the cassowary could weather Yasi’s storm. Before the sun had set the day after the category 5 cyclone belted the Queensland coast, cogs were already turning as the community and State Government banded together to address and manage the impact to the endangered, Wet Tropics population, of the southern cassowary, Casuarius casuarius johnsonii.
The cassowaries, or ‘big black chooks’ as they’re affectionately known, have been the subject of an extensive supplementary feeding program since the cyclone. Cassowaries from Innisfail to the Cardwell gap have had their fruit served up on a platter… well not so much a platter, big red buckets to be more exact. This is a program that many of the older cassowaries may be familiar with, after Cyclone Larry (another category 5) and Cyclone Winifred (category 3) hit Innisfail in March 2006 and January 1986 respectively.
In the past year, the Cassowary Response Team has distributed over 140 tonne of fruit! This amazing effort would not have been a reality without the dedicated crew of volunteers that have given over 4300 hours of their time, something that makes me proud to be a Queenslander. And while there is still a long road ahead, the forest is showing signs of recovery and the cassowaries are returning to forage on native fruits, evident in the scats the birds leave behind them.
While there have been casualties; either due to car strikes, dog attacks, injuries or illness, it still appears to be business as usual for many adult cassowaries. Birds have been seen walking around with two bald patches on either side of their rump. A good indication that the adults had been “getting down to business” *wink-wink* *insert wolf whistle* and chicks were going to follow.
Late last year everyone was very happy to see little stripeys running behind a number of dads in the cyclone affected footprint.
On a side note, the female cassowary has it all worked out… she is the better looking of the two sexes (a rarity in the avian world) and larger than her male counterpart, weighing up to a whopping 90 kg. And despite living a solitary life, she is a girl who knows how to throw her weight around when she wants to.
The females’ arrangement with her inferior partner goes a little something like this: “I will be prettier than you, eat more food, you will serenade me before we mate, I’ll lay my eggs in the nest you have so meticulously built for me *insert batting eyelashes*, you will sit on the nest for around 60 days to allow the eggs to incubate, then you will run around after our chicks for 12-18months or until I return for some more action…. Deal?”
Everyone loves a gal who will stare down the face of Australia’s biggest known cyclone, pick herself up, dust herself off and get on with ensuring this prehistoric species persists for generations to come.