In Search of the Cassowary

Ryan and I were heading from Sydney to Cairns, a city famous as a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia. After driving more than 2300 km over several days, we entered a region called the Cassowary Coast. Cassowary Coast? My heart jumped in excitement when I heard that name! Neither of us really knew much about cassowaries, other than that they’re some kind of large, rare bird. Do cassowaries really live here?

That afternoon, we decided to spend the night in a beachfront caravan park in Cowley Beach, not too far from Cairns. As we drove through some corn and banana cropland, we noticed an unusual street sign. It warned of a crossing animal, to be sure, but we didn’t really recognize  the animal. It looked like a strange ostrich, or maybe a stretched chicken. We knew it must be a cassowary!

Cassowary street sign

That afternoon we walked along the pretty white sandy beach. It was beautiful, but I couldn’t help thinking, wouldn’t it be fun if a cassowary strayed from the forest and walked along the beach toward us. I wanted to see a wild cassowary! The next morning, I woke up early and searched the beach for the last time before we left. Nice beach, but no big birds.

What’s with this desire of seeing wild animals? If we just wanted to see a cassowary, we could easily visit a zoo or animal park. Many of them have cassowaries in their collection. But there’s something about seeing animals in their natural habitat. Freely roaming to wherever they wish to go, gathering food, hiding or running away from danger, playing and living their lives in their natural setting. No cage, no feeding schedule, no audience. They are wild! And now that we’d seen the cassowary signs everywhere, we knew we were so close to them. I wanted to see one very badly!

Kuranda Rainforest
Kuranda Rainforest

In Kuranda, a town surrounded by rainforest not too far from Cairns, my hope to see the cassowaries went up again, as we saw some signs along the road. In town we met a nice elderly man who told us that there were a couple of sightings at the nearby river two days ago. That just put our hopes up even higher. We did some walking tracks that day in the forest, moving very quietly so as not to spook any cassowaries. We also went on a boat trip along the river. Beautiful nature with many birds, some turtles and freshwater crocodiles. But no cassowary! We were told that they are shy animals, who will hide when they detect humans. Good idea, birds! Not all humans are nice to animals. But, I want to see you!

We drove around in the forest, and guess what we saw! A “recent cassowary crossing” sign! To make drivers careful, not to roll over a cassowary if it happens to be on the road. I was delighted! It was a recent crossing, could it be still around? We drove slowly, with our eyes skimming carefully between the trees. The forests are very large, and the road cutting through them can only see a tiny slice. No luck, no cassowary that day.

Recent crossing cassowary street sign

By this time, I had examined many cassowary picture from postcards, brochures, and wildlife posters I found in tourist info sites and souvenir shops. A tall flightless bird, only a little shorter than ostrich and emu, and in between them in thickness. Beautiful brilliant blue neck, red wattles, black feathers covering the body, and a big brown crest on the head called a casque. That brown casque, I was so curious about it. To me, it looked like a meaty or spongy soft crest. I wanted to touch it. I wanted to squeeze it!

Daintree beach and rainforest
Daintree beach and rainforest

We spent a couple of days camping in the forest, hiking the walking trails, always vigilant for any signs of the cassowary. We strained our ears for any little noises the forest made. Every scratch, or cluck, or fluttering sound made us freeze in silence, hoping that this time we’d see the object our of search. But every time it turned out to be the small Australian brush turkey instead. These little turkeys were everywhere! But we were so sure sometimes that the footsteps were heavier than just a little animal footsteps. Our imaginations ran wild, and we started to imagine that every footprint we saw had come from a cassowary.

Australian brush turkey
Australian brush turkey

We even encountered a picnic area that had signs warning people not to feed cassowaries. Did that mean cassowaries in this area are not too shy around humans? Would they come to us then? We waited there for hours, but the bird never appeared.

My curiosity about the bird kept growing. I want to squeeze and feel that brown crest even more. Meaty and rubbery in my mind, even though Ryan kept saying that it’s going to be much harder than I imagine, and not squeezable like a sponge. Well, deep inside I knew I won’t do it because it will disturb them. But at that moment, I was so curious. We are not supposed to touch a wild animal, especially a dangerous one like this. Dangerous? Yes, cassowary can be a dangerous bird. It can give you a high jump and strong kick, and its middle claws are strong and sharp like a dagger. It could rip your skin and flesh easily.

Daintree Forest scenic stop
Taking a peek from a scenic stop at Daintree Forest. Could there be cassowaries below?

Finally, it was time for us to go back to Sydney. Our Queensland trip had been amazing. Tropical rainforests, mangroves, Atherton Tableland, Daintree rainforest and river, crocodiles, the Great Barrier Reef with amazing SCUBA diving, the waterfalls, the white sand beaches, the caves, the wild flora and fauna, and many more. But we never did see a wild cassowary.Still, there’s a little voice in my head telling me that it’s probably for the best for the best that they’re avoiding us. So many other animals have been harmed by getting too close to us. We didn’t see one, but I know they’re out there and it makes me happy thinking about these big, beautiful, shy birds roaming the deepest parts of the rainforest.

Cassowary close-up, Featherdale Wildlife Park, Sydney
Cassowary in Featherdale Wildlife Park, Sydney

We did, eventually, see a cassowary, but it was behind bars in a wildlife park. It looked kind of sad in there, pacing back and forth, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Part of me wanted to break the cage open and take it back to the rainforest where it belongs.

Have you ever searched for something and never found it? Got a story about the one that got away? Tell us about it in the comments!

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33 Responses to “In Search of the Cassowary”

  1. Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World
    25 January 2011 at 11:02 am #

    I was chased by a cassowary once, in a nature park in Australia. I’m ok by not seeing one in the wild :)
    Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World´s last post…Rock Climbing- Traveling- and Social Pressure

    • Dina
      25 January 2011 at 11:39 am #

      Hahhaha :D

  2. Jennifer Barry
    26 January 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Hi Dina, if it’s about the size of an ostrich, I don’t want to meet up with it! I’ve been up close and personal with an ostrich and it gave me a look (with it’s huge eyes) like it wanted to peck me in the face. I’m glad you didn’t try to pet a cassowary.

    • Dina
      27 January 2011 at 10:56 am #

      Funny! I know what you mean. Once we went to a safari here in Canada. We were inside a car, and an ostrich was taking a peek through the window. The eyes are huge indeed. The ostrich started trying to peck at the door lock knob, not realizing there’s a window glass in between and that it’s not a worm. That was very funny.

  3. Brooke, WhyGo Australia
    26 January 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    I love me some cassowaries :) They’re huge and they look like dinosaurs!
    Brooke, WhyGo Australia´s last post…Favorite Australian Slang- Phrases to Call People Unintelligent

    • Dina
      27 January 2011 at 10:57 am #

      I’m jealous that you and Heather saw one in Mission beach!

    • jade
      3 February 2011 at 6:02 am #

      Totally agree! Bob and I kept pointing at them and saying, “wow- really like dinosaurs!” too funny!

  4. Gray
    28 January 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    People who come to Vermont (and heck, even those of us who live here!) often want to spot a moose. But of course they don’t always show up when and where you want them to. Also, when I was a kid, we used to drive to the local dump and sit in the car at dusk to see if the bears would come out to rummage through the garbage. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. So yeah, I get the obsession to spot an animal.
    Gray´s last post…Cruising the Seine

    • Dina
      28 January 2011 at 11:52 pm #

      Moose and bear! What kind of bear did you see there?
      I was obsessed to see moose and bear too! No luck with moose, but I’m not sure I was even in the right place (Canadian Rockies). I was obsessed to see bears too there, black and grizzly. We were so happy when (after a lot of waiting in various places), we spotted one black! We were not insane enough to get out of the car though.
      It’s nice to know locals do that too!

  5. Maria Pavel
    28 January 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    Hi Dina,

    The 1st time I wanted to see the pictures first and… wow… I saw these great pictures just made me want to read every piece of this article. Great article, quality content as always, it’s always a pleasure to read your blog. By the way, the cassowaries look really nice, beautiful birds.
    And now to answer your questions:
    Have you ever searched for something and never found it?
    - Yeah… well, I don’t remember what I was searching for, but I managed to get myself lost in the deep woods, I haven’t found what I was looking for, except some civilization near the woods, lol.
    Got a story about the one that got away?
    - Nah.. I’m sorry, I don’t recall having one, maybe some other time.

    Thanks for sharing these awesome pictures and one of your many great adventures.
    Maria Pavel´s last post…Free CNA Training

    • Dina
      28 January 2011 at 10:56 pm #

      Maria, that’s such a sweet compliment, thank you! They are beautiful, aren’t they, the blue is so vivid, for a bird.
      Too bad you don’t remember what you were looking for in the wood, I’m curious! But finding a civilization near the woods sounds kinda cool too! Or not? lol..

  6. Zablon Mukuba
    29 January 2011 at 12:30 am #

    i never knew you liked birds

    • Dina
      30 January 2011 at 12:45 pm #

      I love animals, I love birds too but I tend to like larger birds more than small ones (maybe so I can see them better)

  7. Michael Hodson
    29 January 2011 at 10:09 am #

    I loved seeing those signs all over the east coast of Oz. I remember up in the Port Douglas area, some creative people had taken spray paint cans out and made a speed bump sign into one of these big birds.
    Michael Hodson´s last post…Worst hotel I have ever stayed in

    • Dina
      30 January 2011 at 12:43 pm #

      Is it the one in the Daintree Forest? The one transformed into “before” and “after” signs? We saw that one, love it! :D

  8. Randy
    30 January 2011 at 12:52 am #

    Prior to reading this I’d never even heard of the cassowary, now I’m hooked. I will definitely be on the look out for one when we make it to Queensland.

    • Dina
      30 January 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      I’m glad I can pass along the cassowary obsession to another fellow traveler couple. It’s fun to imagine you and Beth will go in the search of cassowary. Looking forward to seeing the cassowary in HDR!

  9. Cheryl Howard
    30 January 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    Awww, too bad that you didn’t get to see one in the wild. I always prefer to see an animal in their natural habitat as opposed to a zoo as well.

    I hope you someday have the chance to see them in the wild. Such cuties! :)
    Cheryl Howard´s last post…Why Torture Yourself When The Museum Of Torture Will Do It For You

    • Dina
      31 January 2011 at 4:33 am #

      Yes, natural habitat has the magic that zoos don’t. Very rewarding to see animals that are not contrived.

      Thanks! I’m afraid my chance to see cassowary in the future is slim, unless if I go back there in Australia. Or I might see them in Papua New Guinea or Irian Barat of Indonesia.

  10. Suzy
    30 January 2011 at 10:46 pm #

    What an interesting looking bird! Too bad you didn’t get to see one in the wild.

    • Dina
      31 January 2011 at 4:33 am #

      Too bad indeed, we were looking for it so much..

  11. Tanya
    1 February 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    Wow – add another animal to my list of must-sees! I feel so privileged when I get to see a rare/exotic animal in its natural habitat.
    Tanya´s last post…Thar be Dragons- Cruising Komodo &amp Rinca Islands

  12. ayngelina
    1 February 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    I wanted to see a kiwi bird in New Zealand but alas I think it’s impossible outside zoos.
    ayngelina´s last post…A porky postcard from the Far East

    • Dina
      6 February 2011 at 8:19 pm #

      Us too! We tried so hard to spot it in a night-time expedition in a nature reserve in Wellington, all we could hear was the hooting noise. To fight our disappointment, we ended up go to a zoo and spotted a kiwi there (no choice for the kiwi other than to be seen by us)

  13. Nowran
    3 February 2011 at 5:48 am #

    I once played the part of a cassowary a long time ago when I was at school – how embarrassing.
    Nowran´s last post…Top 10 Australian Animals updated Thu Feb 3 2011 4-29 am CST

    • Dina
      6 February 2011 at 8:23 pm #

      Haha, I think that’s great! I would love to have a realistic cassowary costume that can actually fit human body.

  14. Samantha Dermot
    8 February 2011 at 6:51 am #

    Cassowaries? Or ostriches? I have always dreamt on riding one and racing against horses. The books say they got great speed. Let’s see how that works against a horse (sounds like a Chocobo of Final Fantasy series)! Oh wait! Must be a Turkey, yum yum!

    • Dina
      25 March 2011 at 1:54 pm #

      Haha, that’s such a great dream! Maybe next time I see these big birds, I’ll try to fugure that out!

  15. Nancie
    24 February 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    They’re beautiful birds. I know I have seen them somewhere; maybe the Chiang Mai Zoo.

    • Dina
      25 March 2011 at 1:55 pm #

      The blue color in them is very beautiful. We ended up seeing them in zoos too.

  16. Benji - passionate about Margaret River
    2 April 2011 at 12:06 am #

    Hi Dina. The next time you go decide to go pay a visit to Australia, try the Western part. We have interesting caves like the Jewel Cave which contains one of the world’s largest straw stalactites and the famous Mammoth cave where bones and fossils have been found here from animals such as the Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) and Zygomaturas (a giant marsupial similar to a Pygmy Hippopotamus).

  17. Port Douglas Queensland
    10 May 2011 at 11:54 pm #

    Hi Dina,

    Did you take all those photo shot? their great.. specially the kuranda rain forest.

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