Australian rainforest dinosaur, Cassowary under threat

By Efrosini Costa, Photograph © Matt Cornish

Australian rainforest dinosaur, Cassowary under threat
A lack of knowledge about this important bird species is threatening its very existence and that of our rainforests.

Who am I?

I evolved millions of years ago and I live in the wet tropics of Australia.

I am the third largest flightless bird in the world.

I am a keystone species and play a critical role in rainforest diversity.

I am endangered and losing my home.


Answer: I am the Southern Cassowary.


Don’t be alarmed if this is the first time you’re hearing or reading about this living dinosaur. In fact it’s not surprising that most people would confuse this flightless bird with an emu or ostrich – after all they are related.

But a lack of knowledge and understanding surrounding this important bird species has threatened its very existence and that of our rainforests.

Today marks the launch of Save the Cassowary, a campaign led by Rainforest Rescue in collaboration with government and non-government groups, 25 zoos and Aboriginal corporations.

The initiative hopes to raise awareness of the little known endangered species, which is feared to number less than 1,000, at present, in the wild – that’s less than the estimated number of Giant pandas left in the wild.

So why is the Cassowary so important?

Saving the Cassowary and saving Australia’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforests go hand in hand. The keystone species shares a symbiotic relationship with its habitat, dispersing seeds from almost 240 plant species.

Interestingly the bird, which is suspected to have evolved from a flighted dinosaur millions of years ago, is the only tropical forest species able to ingest poisonous berries and excrete the seeds to ensure the ecological diversity and functionality of the rainforest.

Described as the second most irreplaceable World Heritage Area on earth – the Wet Tropics need the Southern Cassowary to survive. They are ‘rainforest gardeners’ or regenerators. Some trees cannot re-germinate until passing through the cassowaries’ digestive tract, they can also carry seeds great distances and spread the rainforest ecology.

Unfortunately like many native species, the cassowaries are under  increasing threat from human encroachment. The main causes of death are the continual loss of natural habitat (80 per cent of  the native rainforest vegetation has been cleared or severely fragmented), vehicle strikes on roads that run between the Wet Tropics, attacks from dogs, feral pigs and disease – which is why campaigners are hoping to raise awareness of the dangers of hand feeding the birds.

How can you help:

Participating zoos across the country will be displaying signs about the Save the Cassowary campaign ao you can keep an eye out for any special events happening or to see this living dinosaur up close.

Drink more coffee, tea and chai – just make sure it’s out fo a specially-designed Cassowary BioPak cup, 20 per cent of the profits from sales of the cup will be donated to the campaign to support Cassowary conservation.

Share this information with your friends, family and kids. Rainforest Rescue has launched this website – which contains a wealth of information about the Cassowary, the threats it faces and how everyone can do their bit to help.

Buy a tree! Rainforest Rescue is involved in propagating and regenerating our rain forests. You can purchase a Cassowary Care Package that will contribute to the restoration of critical rainforest habitat for the Endangered Southern Cassowary. Every $25 will plant and maintain one rainforest tree for two years.


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