They can chase you through dense forests at speeds faster than 48 km/h (30 mph). Cassowaries are flightless birds, but they sure can swim and jump. And each foot has a 10 cm (4 in) claw that can slice you open with a single kick. So you should’ve thought twice before you tried to pet this bird. Now you’ll need to keep watching if you want to survive.
Cassowaries are beautiful, colorful creatures. The southern, or double-wattled cassowary has a shimmering black body. Their necks are blue, turquoise and magenta, and they have a horned crest on top of their heads.
And these deadly birds could be bigger than you are. The largest ones can be 1.8 m (6 ft) tall and weigh up to 73 kg (160 lb). Cassowaries are living dinosaurs, descendants of the only dinosaurs who survived the Cretaceous mass extinction event 66 million years ago.
How many people have been killed by cassowaries? Where should you run if a cassowary is chasing you? And how could a fruit save your life?
Step 1. Bring a snack
In 1999, biologist Chris Kofron studied 150 recorded cassowary attacks on humans. He discovered that in 109 cases, the fowl were soliciting food. In areas where people have fed these birds, some cassowaries behave aggressively in expectation of food. They will run up to you, chase you and even kick you if don’t offer them food. But if you bring fruit with you, you’ll get into their good graces.
Step 2. Don’t crouch
If you’re facing a cassowary, it’s best not to crouch or lie on the ground. Cassowaries kick in a forward and downward direction, so putting yourself closer to the ground would make you very vulnerable. And don’t turn your back on it, unless you’re running as fast as you can to escape an attack. In April 2019, in Florida, U.S., a man who kept a cassowary on his farm was killed by it when he fell on the ground.
Step 3. Leave them be
Don’t forget that cassowaries are dinosaurs. Even in your boldest moments, you wouldn’t consider messing with a velociraptor, would you? There have been two recorded human deaths due to cassowary attacks after the people provoked the birds. In Australia, in 1926, a man was hunting cassowaries with friends and struck the bird, intending to kill it. But the cassowary defended itself with its sharp nails. It slashed the man’s jugular vein and killed him.
Step 4. Find a road
If a cassowary attacks you, run away from it. These birds are fast on land and water, so run as fast as you can. But try to run strategically. So if you see a road or an area out of the jungle, run toward it. Chances are, the cassowary will decide to stay back in the forest instead of following you outside the perimeter of its habitat.
Step 5. Protect them
There are less than 4,600 Australian Southern Cassowaries left in the wild. And while you should be afraid of this powerful fowl and recognize it as a threat, you should also appreciate its beauty and feel lucky to have them around. They are a connection to dinosaurs and the Earth’s past.
And cassowaries play an important role in biodiversity. They do their part to regenerate rainforest ecology by eating the fruits of over 240 species of rainforest plants and excreting the seeds, helping spread the plants. You survived the attack of this modern-day dinosaur.
- “Cassowaries”. 2021. Magazine.
- “How the world’s most dangerous bird got its unique feathers”. Katie Hunt, CNN. 2021. CNN.
- “What is the world’s most dangerous bird?”. 2021. The Library Of Congress.
- “How Dangerous Are Cassowaries, Really?”. Naish, Darren. 2016. Scientific American Blog Network.
- “Why This Enormous, Scaly Foot Looks Like It’s From A Dinosaur”. 2019. livescience.com.
- “Florida man killed by dangerous bird he kept on his farm” Kayla Epstein. 2021. providencejournal.com.
- “Cassowary Survival Guide: How To Survive An Attack”. The Survival Journal.