Tag Archives: Cassowaries

How the Cassowary Became a Flightless Bird – A PNG Legend


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Public Domain image

While described as one of the most dangerous birds in the world, cassowaries are beautiful large flightless birds. I have posted a story about threats to cassowaries in Northern Queensland due to their habitat destruction. Read Here. I had mentioned the value of cassowaries in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in that post and I wanted to show what this bird means to our  people. This legend comes from Garaina, in Morobe Province. I also come from Morobe. The legend was contributed to a national high school collection of legends told Stephen Suij.

How the Cassowary became a Flightless BirdA Legend from the Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea.

Long ago, the cassowary was a big bird with a long neck, large legs and big wings which enabled it to fly like all other birds of the forest.

At that time, the cassowary and the hornbill were best friends, and spent most of their time flying around together, feeding on the delicious fruits at the top of the trees.

They were very close friends, but as time passed, the hornbill became increasingly jealous of the cassowary, who with his long neck could stretch and reach the best of the fruit pickings. The poor hornbill had to be content with leftovers.

While the hornbill hid his jealousy, he began to plan a trick to punish the cassowary.

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A Hornbill Picture by Waterdragon62 – Flickr Photo-sharing

One day the hornbill broke two dried sticks off a tree branch, placed them beneath each wing, under its feathers, and then flew off meet the cassowary.

“I have an idea”, the hornbill said to the cassowary.

“After we have fed on the fruit and are fully satisfied, let us do some stylish tricks in the air to see who is more brave and skilled.”

“Sure”, the cassowary said – liking the idea.

“But”, added the hornbill, “each of us must break his wings to see how far he can fly with broken wings.”

The cassowary had no objection to this ‘idea’, so when they had eaten enough fruit, they were ready for the game. The hornbill volunteered to go first.

Pretending to break his two wings, he snapped the two dry sticks beneath his wings and then flew away. He performed some stylish tricks in the air and then flew to a nearby tree to perch. The hornbill then called the cassowary to try to outwit his tricks.

The cassowary, ignoring the pain he had to suffer, broke his wings, one by one. Then he stretched the wings to fly away but he only crashed to the ground. He could not lift his weight with broken wings.

The hornbill broke into laughter at the top of his voice he said, “you have always had the most and the best of the fruit, but now you can stay on the ground and feed on my waste while I enjoy the best of the forest.”

From that day until today, the cassowary has been a bird of the ground, with wings that could not fly.

The Cassowary – Papua New Guinea

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Public Domain image

Flightless Feathered Family
The cassowaries are ratites, very large flightless birds in the genus Casuarius native to the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea, nearby islands and northeastern Australia. There are three extant species recognized today.

The most common of these, the Southern Cassowary, is the third tallest and second heaviest living bird, smaller only than the ostrich and emu.

Cassowaries (from the Malay name kesuari)[3] are part of the ratite group, which also includes the Emu, rheas, ostriches, and kiwis, and the extinct moas and elephant birds. The other two species are the Northern Cassowary, Casuarius unappendiculatus and Dwarf Cassowary, Casuarius bennetti. They are also found in Papua New Guinea.

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A PNG warrior wearing a cassowary feather headdress. Picture by Brent Stirton

Cassowaries are very important to the native people of New Guinea both economically and ritually. Cassowaries have been traded for pigs and even as bride price for a wife and compensation payment especially in the highlands provinces .

Some tribes hunt them for their meat which is considered a delicacy. They use the feathers to decorate headdresses, and the feather quills for earrings. The sharp claws are often placed at the tips of arrows, while the strong leg bones are used as daggers.

For many native people, cassowaries are full of legends and mystical powers. Some tribes believe that cassowaries are reincarnations of female ancestors, while others believe that the cassowary is the primal mother. These tribes do not hunt or deal in trade with cassowaries.

A HD Movie on Cassowaries narrated by David Attenborough on Natural World BBC.

An Iconic Beauty Under Threat – Cassowaries


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Australia’s iconic Cassowary is under threat of extinction.

I personally love the cassowary bird because of its unique beauty.

In Papua New Guinea(PNG), the cassowary is highly regarded in traditional myths as a source of life and spiritual energy. While cassowary is food in PNG cultures,  it is also kept as a pet. Cassowary feathers are used for headdress and bones used for tools. I remember my grandfather (mother’s father) kept a cassowary wing bone he used to stitch sago leaves together for our roof.  Some tribes, foe example the Abelam people in Sepik have used the femur of the cassowary birds to make weapons such as daggers (pictured below).

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Cassowary daggers

The cassowary lives in north of Australia and PNG. I constantly read articles about the near-extinction of this giant bird and I wanted to share the awareness that if we in Australia (and PNG) are not careful, we will lose this species.

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Southern Cassowary with three chicks crossing a road (photo courtesy of S. Hardy & D. Johnston) [Daintree to Port Douglas road, QLD, August 2013]
Why did the cassowary cross the road?

This question is no longer a joke.

According to Megan Neal at Houston Zoo website:

“Unfortunately, there’s no punch line and the situation is no laughing matter. Habitat loss and fragmentation have left the Australian population of cassowaries on the brink of extinction. These huge birds need large amounts of land to roam in search of food and to breed”.

Like other species, cassowaries’ habitat have been repeatedly destroyed by the boom in residential and commercial construction. Everyone wants to live near the rainforests of Australia, but there’s simply not enough room for everyone.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) answer to the question gives another example of the problem. The cassowary crossed the road because its habitat has been chopped in half by a freeway. So far this year, more cassowaries have died from speeding cars, dog attacks and habitat loss than in all of 2014.

ACF report said the modern-day hazards are now increasing the extinction risk.

“While local groups are doing great work to protect these gorgeous creatures, governments need to catch up! We need to transform our national nature protection framework so local, state and national laws work in together to protect life in Australia”.

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Near-frontal view of a female-Southern Cassowary (photo courtesy of D. Wilczynska) [Daintree NP, QLD, March 2015]
The cassowary is far-north Queensland’s flagship species for both the tourism industry and the World Heritage rainforests.

It is an iconic and unique species that deserves better than the devastating carnage it faces on regional roads throughout the Wet Tropics.

Sadly, 2015 is off to a particularly bad start for the endangered – and rather large – flightless bird with reports of at least six cassowaries killed between Mission and Bramston Beach this year.

Another cassowary was killed recently by domestic dogs on the Atherton Tableland.

Until recently, the remaining wild population was thought to be at around 2000. However, new research by the CSIRO estimates that the cassowary population may be more than double that at around 4400.

But this number is spread over 730,000 hectares of potential habitat with strong populations known in some areas and few or no records from other areas.

Read More on ACF Online News