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Cassowary attacks

Photo by Rob Lapaer of Rainforest Hideaway B&B, Cape Tribulation, N.Qld.

Cassowaries will not attack for no reason. But they can be territorial, very defensive of their young or be expecting food if people have been doing the wrong thing by feeding them and there is quite a list of people having been chased, charged, kicked, pushed, pecked, jumped on, and head-butted. Statistics show that most cassowary attacks were actually self defence, they are quite capable of killing dogs by gutting them with their sharp claws on their huge feet and have even been rumoured to have killed small horses.

Usually cassowaries are very shy but when they feel threatened or want to protect their young they can lash out dangerously with their powerful legs and jump and kick with both legs at once.
Their three-toed feet have sharp claws; the dagger-like middle claw is 12 cm long.

claws of a young cassowary
Photo by Craig Campbell
Even this young cassowary has formidable claws

Photo by Rob Lapaer of Rainforest Hideaway B&B
Awesome claws on this cassowary

cassowary spears
In New Guinea the natives use the sharp talons to make spears;

cassowary attack

The best defence is to keep someting in front of you, or go behind a tree, and step back slowly, or raise your arms to look taller.

Close encounters of the bird kind:

Babinda - April 2012

Dennis Ward from Albany, W.A. was on holidays in north Queensland and visited the Babinda Boulders. His holiday became a very memorable one when he encountered a cassowary that kicked him off the cliff and into the water.

Cairns - April 1995

cassowary at Rainforest Hideaway B&B accommodation in Cape Tribulation , Daintree, North Queensland
Photo by Rob Lapaer of Rainforest Hideaway B&B, Cape Tribulation, N.Qld.
Standing as tall as a man, a meeting with a cassowary can be quite intimidating.

The city of Cairns is expanding and the suburb of Mt. Whitfield is pushing its way into the rainforest.
Several walkingtracks like the Blue Arrow and Red Arrow trail wind their way through the rainforests here. Some people used these trails to go jogging, which led to some encounters with cassowaries.
In April of 1995, Doon McColl was jogging along this trail, when she heard a noise behind her. She turned to see a full size adult cassowary running after her, so she ran like hell and then climbed a tree.
The big bird waited below for hours later until it finally wandered off.
A week later her boyfriend, Ray Willetts, was also chased. He tried to lose the bird in the jungle and spent the day crashing through thorns and lawyer cane while the huge bird followed effortlessly.

I recall listening to a local Cairns radio station where a bloke rang up to tell his cassowary adventure and when the DJ started making a joke out of it the man on the phone became agitated and said; look mate, it was not f#&#ing funny, I never been so scared in all my life!
Fact is, cassowaries like to follow you, if you walk, they will walk behind you, if you run, they just run behind you. At Rainforest Hideaway in Cape Tribulation I am used to having them around and one day when I am standing in the carpark with one face to face suddenly the phone rings. I turn my back to him and run to answer the phone, and straightaway hear the pounding of cassowary feet right behind me, so I stopped and he stopped too.
That's why I don't believe all these 'cassowary attack' stories. If people were only chased and not kicked that means the bird was not even trying to catch up with you.

Cape Tribulation

One day in 2003 several men were training as guides for Mason's guided walks in Cape Tribulation when they encountered a cassowary on one of the trails in the rainforest. Rather than to go behind a tree they chose to run and if there's anything a cassowary regards good fun it is chasing people so they ran for miles with the big bird in pursuit. The national parks ranger in Cape Tribulation gets 'cassowary attack' reports from time to time from the tourists but all that has usually happend is that they were chased for some distance, if the bird doesn't catch up with you that means he is not trying to, as they can easily run three times as fast as people.

bed and breakfast accommodation in cape tribulation

Two cassowaries with two chicks often hangout on the beach and around the picnic area at Cape Tribulation beach and this has resulted several times in encounters of the bird kind. One of the crew members of Rum Runner reef trips was chased around the picnic area for some time, doing circles around trees, even his football dodging techniques did not help, and he finally ran in to the sea to escape the territorial cassowary that would not give up.

Photo courtesy of Mission Beach Sanctuary
Keep away from cassowaries with chicks, they will attack to protect their young!

This cassowary attack report was sent in by Dawn Gray, together with her husband she runs the Cape Tribulation Farmstay where you can stay in cabins surrounded by tropical fruit trees;

Whilst picking mangosteens, I was standing under the trees looking up - Buttons my dog was sitting beside me. I heard this hissing noise beside me and jumped behind the mangosteen tree to get out of the way of whatever was behind me. It was an adult cassowary and we happened to be between her and her two chicks about 4 metres away. In the flash of a second, the adult bird literally took a huge jump and landed on the sitting dog. Her foot caught Buttons side and with my cries of "run Buttons, run....." we both scrambled along the row of trees and away from the very agitated cassowary. The chicks never seemed disturbed by the event and went on grazing along the fruit tree rows. Buttons went to the Mossman Vet for stitches (12) and I went to pay the bill of $260. This adult cassowary has successfully raised many chicks that we know of and from now on our dogs will stay close to the house and not accompany us to the orchard.
This is far from the only dog in Cape Tribulation needing a trip to the vet after an encounter, we have heard of many more.

cassowary attack survivors
Smiling survivors

Torben above is all smiles again after surviving an encounter with a cassowary on the Mount Sorrow track in Cape Tribulation, although he still has a swollen foot and two painful fingers bandaged together.
The couple was on the way down from Mount Sorrow when they were chased by a large cassowary. When all attempts to shake off the bird or to stand their ground failed they laid down in the mud and played dead. This calmed the bird, that had been hissing and breathing heavily before. Unfortunately the bird then sat down next to them and kept them prisoner, every time they made the slightest move the cassowary would get up and make threatening moves again. After about 40 minutes of being kept prisoner two other hikers came past on the track and the cassowary got up and went after them, and the lucky couple got up and rapidly made their way down the hill and back to their accommodation in Cape Tribulation.
This cassowary was captured by rangers a year later after attacking numerous people, including a German woman that was pecked on her buttocks and an Indian man that got kicked in the back on the beach, both had to be treated at the Cape Tribulation pharmacy.

One tactic that is often recommended to stand your ground is to raise your hands so you look taller.
In this video shot on Cape Tribulation Beach it seems to work....

Mossman - April 1926

Cassowaries are among the very few birds that can kill a person but the only time on record that happened was in April 1926 when some boys were hunting a cassowary near Mossman, North Queensland. The cassowary turned and chased the boys and one of them, 16 year old Phillip McClean, fell over and got his jugular vein on his neck slashed open by the sharp claw on the cassowary's foot.

San Francisco - February 2001

Cassowaries can be quite teritorial, even in captivity as a worker in the San Francisco Zoo found out in February 2001 when a 5 year old male attacked him and slashed his leg open. Tourists from time to time report being chased or attacked by cassowaries but this is usually due to people, against all good advice, feeding them so they expect food when they see people and the next lot doing the right thing and not feeding him will cause him to be aggressive not getting his expected meal.

Southern Cassowary (Casuarius Casuarius)., Daintree NP, Queensland, Australia
Southern Cassowary (Casuarius Casuarius)., Daintree NP, Queensland, Australia
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Cassowary videos

Watch these cassowary attack movies on Youtube:





For more info on this amazing bird go to the cassowary page

Have you been attacked by a cassowary or know about an attack? Then let us know!

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