Interesting how some conversations come back to haunt you later…
When relatives were visiting a little while back, I mentioned the possibility of cassowaries living in the rainforest at the far end of our farm. It’s dark and dense at the end of our block, and I always thought there was a chance it might be harbouring a cassowary. My relatives seemed surprised I even considered it a possibility – we were too far from the coast, they thought. Now I might have found that reassuring except that I knew there were cassowaries living not ten minutes from our place – other relatives had encountered them when staying at some accommodation near by.
(*At this point, for people following the blog from overseas, I should probably clarify why I was a little concerned about bumping into a cassowary. Cassowaries are very large birds, between 1.5 and 2.0 metres tall – that’s about 5 to 6.5 feet tall. There are very few left in the wild, and are considered an endangered animal nationally (though some websites only list them as vulnerable). For defence and fighting purposes, they have a large claw on the back of each foot.
Here’s what Wikki has to say about the claws, speed and swimming abilities of cassowaries (it’s like something out of a horror movie): “The second toe, the inner one in the medial position, sports a dagger-like claw that can be 125 mm (5 in) long. This claw is particularly fearsome since cassowaries sometimes kick humans and animals with their enormously powerful legs. Cassowaries can run at up to 50 km/h (31 mph) through the dense forest and can jump up to 1.5 m (4.9 ft). They are good swimmers, crossing wide rivers and swimming in the sea.” And here’s another little lovely little quote from Wikki about these birds: “Cassowaries are very shy, but when provoked they are capable of inflicting injuries, occasionally fatal, to dogs and people.” Charming.
Here’s a pic courtesy of Wikki:
Not a month went by and I noticed something strange when I was driving home one day… After I turned off the main highway, onto the lane that trails down past our place, a new street sign had been erected (keep scrolling…):
That was interesting! Someone must have seen a cassowary in the area and reported it. As I drove down the road, I noticed there were two signs – one about three minutes up the road from our place and the second about two hundred metres from our front door, presumably denoting the zone in which the cassowary was expected to cross the road.
The next day the second sign was moved closer to our house and erected about one hundred metres from our front door. Over the next few days I kept an eye out and drove a little more slowly in the “cassowary crossing” zone but didn’t see anything. I began to think maybe the person who reported it had imagined the whole thing.
Then one afternoon, just on sunset, I was driving home with the kids and saw something up ahead – a large shape stopped on the road. I slowed right down but it didn’t get off the road – a cassowary! I didn’t really want to stop the car (in case it decided to kick the car) but it wasn’t moving off the road and I really had no choice but to keep the engine running and pull to a stop at a safe distance away. We sat, staring out the windshield, as the cassowary wandered about the road in front of us before finally shuffling off into the bushes.
The next day the neighbour popped by for a catch up on gossip and to drop off a bunch of bananas he’d grown. He asked me if I’d seen the mystical Cassowary that had prompted the new signs. Well, I could tell him I had indeed! Then followed a ten minute conversation on the colour, size, age and possible gender of the bird.
Anyway, life carried on much the same after that, until one morning, a few days later, I was making breakfast and preparing school lunches when I looked out the kitchen window and saw this:
What the?!!! Two cassowaries, just outside the houseyard, and not ten feet from the house! The two birds circled the house, peering in at all the windows until we felt like goldfish in a bowl. They weren’t fully grown, juveniles, maybe only one metre tall. It was all fun and games, us able to observe them from the safety of the house until it came time to take the kids to school….and the cassowaries decided to station themselves at the car! We ended up forty-five minutes late for school (“Sorry we’re late, Miss. Held captive by cassowaries in our own home.”) The kids had a good story to share with their friends that day.
Anyway, apparently the standard self-defence accessory when living in a cassowary-prone area is a very big and sturdy umbrella. So for the next few days I didn’t leave the house without a great big umbrella in one hand. My usual call of, “Watch out for snakes!” as the kids get out of the car has been replaced by, “Watch out for snakes…and cassowaries.”
Ah the joys of living in the Australian bush. “Cassowaries and Snakes and Ticks – Oh My!” Dorothy and Toto, eat your heart out 🙂
Have a great week and I’ll write again soon.
P.S. I really should note here that most Australians aren’t at all concerned about cassowaries or snakes and mostly we live with these animals without much incident. I can’t remember the last time anyone was killed or maimed by a cassowary – though that could be helped by the fact that cassowaries are an extremely rare sighting and most Australians will live their whole lives without ever seeing one outside of a zoo. That being said, given cassowaries’ abilities, I’ve got a healthy respect for them and will continue keeping my (cowardly) distance 🙂