Feeding Habits and Threats plus Mythology & Fossils

Cassowary Habitat, Appearance and Claw Attacks

Cassowary Habits - Courtship and Calls plus Nests & Chicks

Cassowary Feeding Habits and Threats plus Mythology & Fossils

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Continued from Cassowary Habits - Courtship and Calls plus Nests & Chicks

Feeding Habits

The Cassowary lives mainly on fruit which the search for on the ground or on low branches. Its dependancy on the fruits is high, the Cassowary needs a forest with a range of trees that give fruits all year round.  These birds also eat mushrooms and small animal such as frogs, snails, insects, and snakes.  They swallow stones to help their stomach grind food, and they drink regularly - water is normally available in abundance in its its habitats.

Threats and Conservation

The Cassowary has been an important bird for humans and has provided protein through its meat and eggs for hundreds of years. However the bird was never completely domesticated. As well as being hunted because of their meat, which is considered as very good-tasting, the Cassowarys' feathers serve as decoration, particularly in ceremonial costumes.  Spoons, tools and weapons are manufactured from the leg bones.  The claws are used as arrowheads.

Cassowary were considered as so valuable that there was for at least five hundred years trade between the Papua and seafaring peoples of Southeast Asia. The Papua brought young Cassowary to the coasts and exchanged them for goods - usually an equivalent of eight pigs for a Cassowary is believed to have been the going rate. It is thought that the wild Cassowary of some small islands reached their current territories in this way.  The colorful feathers were also a source of interest to European Colonists and the reason that in the past the colonists often hunted this animal.

Currently, the three species of cassowary are threatened by the destruction of habitat.  The Southern Cassowary, which is the only species in Australia, is strictly protected in that country by Australian law.  In some areas where the Cassowary's natural living environment has been destroyed, for example by the fragmentation of the forests in Australia, the bird has had to move to areas closer to where people inhabit.  It is not uncommon to see cassowary as they cross the road in order to move from one patch forest to another.  Their movements have caused conflicts, particularly with fruit farmers.

In the Irian Jaya (the western side of New Guinea, under Indonesiana jurisdiction) are numerous areas of mining exploitation, which can be a source of pollution and disturbance of the Cassowary's habitat. Beyond this, there are other negative pressures caused by man, including road accidents or attacks by dogs.  In these situations the chicks are extremely vulnerable.

The Southern Cassowary and  Northern cassowary are classified as urgently threatened as a result of the loss of so much of their natural habitat. Estimates of how many of these birds remain varies between 1,500 and 10,000.

Approximately 40 Cassowaries are kept in captivity in Australia, including 4 (as at 2006) in Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo.   You can also see Cassowaries in conservation at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC.


The Cassowary is an important figure in the mythology of the native populations of Oceania and generally represents a female or maternal figure.  The bird emerges in numerous myths and fables. Since there are numerous different Papua peoples with completely different habits and customs, nothing general can be said about these faith conceptions. Two examples are to be quoted: The people of the Kalam regard the Cassowaries as a reincarnation of their female ancestors, which is the reason that the hunt for Cassowary is forbidden there. The master goddess of the Ilahita Arapesh takes the shape of a Cassowary and is a component of many fertility rites.

Cassowary Fossils

Fossil finds of Cassowary are rare. Most finds are only fragments, which cannot be assigned for certain either to Cassowary or Emus. All of these finds originate from Australia.  One  find, which could be assigned to a Dwarf Cassowary for certain, originates from the Pleistocene epoch (1.8 million to around 10,000 years ago) from new South Wales and points to the fact that the Cassowary might have once been spread much further in Australia than today. Only one fossil find is older than the Pleistocene; it originates from the Pliocene epoch in Australia, and is over 4 million years old.  However, its allocation to the Cassowary is uncertain.
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