Someone told me a cassowary can disembowel you with its beak. I haven’t been able to confirm this in my limited (non-existent) web research, but I believe it.
Other more factual facts that you might like to know include this: the female cassowary lays the eggs, but it’s the male who sits on the nest and raises them. We have a lot to learn from our fine-feathered friend. I like to imagine the female cassowary as some kind of rainforest dilettante, leaving the child minding to her partner while she gets drunk on quandongs with the musky rat kangaroos and carpet pythons.
Nerd that I am, I studied the “If confronted by a cassowary” sign carefully while I waited for the car ferry to cross the Daintree River into Cape Tribulation. It also had two plaster-cast demonstration birds, which were supposed to assist the novice birdwatcher.
Instructions ran as follows:
- Do not run.
- Without turning, retreat slowly.
- If the bird becomes aggressive, place a solid object such as tree between yourself and the bird. If nothing is available, hold an object such as an item of clothing or a backpack in front of you and continue to back away slowly.
Frankly, I wasn’t sure that my backpack was going to stop a disembowelling Queensland-bred prehistoric Big Bird.
So yes, trepidation. But also anticipation. If Far North Queensland has a hierarchy of animal spotting, the cassowary is up there with the crocodile and green turtle. The cassowary might not be a Gouldian Finch in the ornithological world (what did I tell you? Nerd!), but every tourist in Cape Trib wants a glimpse and (preferably) a photo to tell the tale.
For all the yellow cassowary crossing signs and demonstration models, spotting a cassowary seemed like a long shot. But not impossible. And it happened sooner than I thought.
I was driving along, ready to curse a bunch of tourists who had stopped dead in the middle road. Road raging was my right as a local, of course. I’d already spent a whole three days in the area. Bloody tourists.
But it turns out those bloody tourists had a bloody good eye. As I sped past them, I glanced in my rear vision mirror to see a cassowary leading two chicks across the road. I turned the car around, but they’d already melted into the rainforest.
Later that afternoon I went for a swim at the Blue Hole, a freshwater swimming spot that is a preview for heaven if ever I saw one. I wandered down to the creek, and that’s when I saw it.
Blue of neck, red of jowl, tan of comb. It had two chicks in tow and walked like an Egyptian. I gestured the former to a couple of other tourists walking back from the Blue Hole, and together we watched the cassowary. Who watched us. And then walked closer, puffing up his chest.
I’ll take you, he mouthed.
I remembered the sign and crept backwards. Where was my backpack?
It was probably three minutes but it felt like an hour, and then the cassowary and his chicks disappeared into the bush.
After that, I felt less worried that I would return to Darwin disembowelled. Sure, if it came down to a me-versus-cassowary situation, well then it would be a lay-down misere for the cassowary. But hopefully he’d just rough me up a bit. Take my lunch money and give me a wedgie.
Now that I think of it, I also have a friend called Cass, aka Cassowary. I never thought much of the nickname before, but with hindsight it seems about right. She too is an impressive creature, and you wouldn’t want to fuck with her either.