By, Arizona New Times
Imagine going to the beach and seeing a huge bird rising from the water, shaking off the droplets from its feathers, and looking around with its piercing eyes. That’s what happened to some visitors at Bingil Bay, a coastal town in northeastern Australia, on Oct. 31. They witnessed a rare sight: a southern cassowary, a massive, flightless bird that is native to the tropical rainforests of the region.
A southern cassowary is a remarkable creature, with a glossy black body, a tall brown helmet on its head, and a long, colorful neck. It can grow up to six feet tall and weigh up to 165 pounds, making it Australia’s heaviest bird. It also has a powerful weapon: a dagger-shaped claw on each foot that can inflict serious injuries if provoked.
Cassowaries are shy and elusive animals, and they are not often seen in the wild. They are also endangered, due to habitat loss, road accidents, and predation by dogs and pigs. They play a vital role in the rainforest ecosystem, as they disperse the seeds of many trees that other animals cannot swallow.
Cassowaries are also strong swimmers, and they can cross rivers and lakes to find food and mates. However, seeing one swimming in the ocean is very unusual, and the reason for this behavior is unknown. Nikita McDowell, a campground host at Bingil Bay, was alerted by a visitor who spotted the cassowary swimming about 650 feet offshore. She followed the advice of local wildlife authorities and monitored the bird until it left the area on its own.
“I went to make a coffee and when I returned, it was gone,” she said.
Stephen Clough, a wildlife officer, said that the footage of the cassowary emerging from the ocean was astonishing, and urged people to report any sightings of sick, injured, or orphaned cassowaries to the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
“We’re not sure how long this animal was in the water or why it went for a swim but the footage is astonishing,” he said.
Cassowaries are sometimes called the “world’s most dangerous bird”, because they can attack humans or animals if they feel threatened. There have been some fatal incidents in the past, such as when a cassowary killed its owner on a farm in Florida in 2019. However, cassowaries are not aggressive by nature, and they usually avoid contact with people. They are also protected by law, and it is illegal to harm or harass them.
If you encounter a cassowary in the wild, the best thing to do is to stay calm and back away slowly. Do not run, as this may trigger a chase response. Do not feed or approach the bird, as this may make it lose its natural fear of humans. And do not turn your back or crouch down, as this may make you look like prey.
Cassowaries are amazing animals that deserve our respect and admiration. They are part of Australia’s rich biodiversity, and they need our help to survive and thrive. By learning more about them and their habitat, we can appreciate their beauty and importance, and protect them for future generations.
Arizona New Times