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