Journal of Zoology



Attacks to humans and domestic animals by the southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii) in Queensland, Australia


Christopher P. Kofron a1
a1 Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Northern Region, P.O. Box 2066, Cairns, Queensland 4870, Australia

Abstract

The southern cassowary Casuarius casuarius johnsonii is endemic to the tropical rainforests of north-eastern Queensland, Australia. This species is Australia's largest bird and holds a reputation for being dangerous. Cassowaries and ostriches are the only birds world-wide that have caused human deaths by physical attack. Incidents occur every year in Queensland, most at Mission Beach (110 km south of Cairns) and Lake Barrine (39 km south-west of Cairns), but previously also at Mount Whitfield in Cairns. The incidence of cassowary attacks in Queensland is reviewed. Data were obtained for 221 cassowary attacks, of which 150 were against humans, 75% of these by cassowaries fed previously by people. The feeding of cassowaries appears to change their natural behaviour, making them bold and aggressive. Victims were chased or charged in 71% of the incidents, and kicked in 15%. Less frequent actions included pushing, pecking, jumping on, butting with the head and snatching food. The cassowaries appeared to be expecting or soliciting food from humans (73% of the incidents), defending food (5%), and defending themselves (15%) or their chicks or eggs (7%). Contrary to popular belief, jogging did not incite cassowaries to attack. Although cassowaries should not be considered dangerous, they can cause serious injuries. Seven attacks against humans resulted in serious injuries (puncture wounds, lacerations, broken bone) and subsequently one death, caused by cassowaries kicking or jumping on victims. In the single fatal attack, the victim was trying to kill the cassowary. Four of the seven seriously injured victims were crouching or lying on the ground.

(Accepted February 26 1999)


Key Words: southern cassowary; Casuarius casuarius johnsonii; Queensland; attacks; feeding behaviour.