Name: Southern Cassowary
Scientific Classification: Casuarius casuarius
Alternative Names: double-wattled cassowary, Australian cassowary, two-wattled cassowary
Location: they are found in dense tropical rainforests of Indonesia, New Guinea and northeast Australia, but the casuarius casuarius johnsonii is exclusive to Australia.
- The term cassowary comes from the Papuan term kasu weri, meaning horned head, and this refers to the large crest on its head, which is called a casque.
- Southern cassowaries are large flightless birds that are related to emus, Africa’s ostrich and New Zealand’s kiwi.
- They have a large body covered in black feathers and strong legs with three toes, with the middle one wielding a dagger-like claw. If they feel threatened, they will kick out with both feet at once, and have been known to disembowel people. This is rare though, as they prefer to run off into the safety of the dense rainforest – they can do short sprints of 40km/h.
- Their featherless neck and head are colourful with hues of purple and blue with bright red wattles, and these change colour depending on their mood.
- They can stand up to 170 centimetres tall and the female is Australia’s heaviest bird at 85kg compared to the smaller 40kg male.
- Cassowaries forage on the forest floor, digging around with their feet and casque to find fallen fruit, snails, fungi and small animals. Cassowaries are important for the survival of rainforests as their droppings spread seeds around.
- During the dry winter months, the male builds a nest on the forest floor that the female lays three to five eggs into. The male then sits on the eggs for 50 days until the eggs hatch. The stripy chicks stick with dad for around 9 months and become sexually mature at 2-3 years. Cassowaries can live to 40 years of age.
- They are endangered and at risk of extinction due to road kills, dog attacks and habitat destruction.
We’ve seen plenty of cassowaries in wildlife parks like Urimbirra Wildlife Park in Victor Harbour and Birdworld in Kuranda, but the real treat is to see them in the wild. Even then, they are very shy and quickly disappear into the thick undergrowth. We saw two cassowaries on our way to Cairns from Cooktown, and another at the Ma:mu Tropical Skywalk near Innisfail.
If you are lucky enough to see one foraging for food in the undergrowth, observe it quietly and don’t approach or feed it. If you’re driving in your car, slow down to avoid hitting them. If they become defensive, their attack can be very dangerous and even deadly. Do not turn your back and run. Hide behind a tree or use your backpack as a shield.
Scientific Classification: Tachyglossidae
Alternative Names: spiny anteater, short beaked echidna
Location: they are found all over Australia as well as in New Guinea
- Echidnas are solitary burrowing animals. Their super strong claws are perfect for excavation. When it’s threatened, it digs itself into the ground or curls up into a prickly ball.
- They are a monotreme – an egg laying mammal. There are only two monotremes in the world and both live in Australia – the platypus and the echidna.
- Their colour ranges from light brown in the north to almost black in the south.
- They have a sensitive nose that they use to find food. Their long, sticky tongue is great to catch ants and worms and their small mouth doesn’t have any teeth.
- Male echidnas have a four-headed penis that is 7cm long and the shaft is covered with spines. Each head is used on rotation each time the echidna mates.
- After mating, lady echidnas lay a single egg in the pouch and after 10 days, the egg hatches. A baby echidna is called a puggle and it is blind and hairless. They drink milk from a gland within the pouch and after four weeks, the baby starts to grow spines so it’s exiled from the pouch. Mum digs a protective burrown and continues to suckle the puggle every 5 days or so until it’s weened at 7 months.
- The echidna is on the Australian 5 cent coin.
Cuteness Rating: If you get the opportunity to look at their little faces, you’ll reckon they’re pretty cute.
Danger Rating: Don’t touch the spikes…
Juz once saw an echidna walking down her street when she used to live in East Malvern, Victoria… in suburbia. She called the RSPCA and they said in a very nonchalant way, “oh yes, they usually come out at this time of the year”…
Since being on the road, we’ve only seen two wild echidnas and a captive one at Urimbirra Wildlife Park. The two wild encounters were so fleeting, because once you see the echidna and it sees you, it hurries to the side of the road and buries its cute little face into the dirt. All you have left is a little mound of menacing spines.
Scientific Classification: canis lupis dingo
Alternative Names: bush dog
Location: they are found all over Australia and in parts of Asia. Their habitat ranges from desert to grasslands and the edge of forests
- Dingoes are related to wolves and might possibly be the oldest breed of dog in the world.
- An apex preditor of Australia, they are opportunistic hunters and either search for food alone or hunt in packs.
- Dingoes are seen as a pest by sheep farmers because they sometimes kill sheep. Their usual diet consists of lizards, birds, kangaroos and rodents.
- They rarely bark and communicate using long howls.
- There are three kinds of dingo – island, alpine and desert dingoes. Their colours can vary from sandy cream to deep red.
- It is believed that dingoes were introduced to Australia but legally they are considered native because they’ve been here for so long.
- It’s hard to find a purebred dingo because they tend to interbreed with domestic dogs. The purest dingoes live on Fraser Island, but they are under threat from overculling.
- Dingoes have special wrists that allow them to rotate their paws.
Cuteness Rating: If you like dogs, then you’ll think dingoes are pretty cute.
Danger Rating: They have teeth like a dog and may attack if they feel threatened.
Our first encounter with a dingo was on the Nullarbor. We were heading back to the highway after spending the night at Murrawidginee Caves and the dingo was hanging about by the track. A really curious fella, he just stopped and looked at us as we stopped and looked at him.
We saw dingoes again at Greenough Wildlife & Bird Park and learnt about the efforts to save the dingo from extinction.
A dingo crossed our path again in the Kimberley on the way up to Mitchell River. He was hanging about by the road to get a drink from a puddle.
Scientific Classification: dromaius novaehollandiae
Alternative Names: bush chook
Location: they are found all over australia but they avoid forest, desert and areas populated by people.
- They are the largest native bird in Australia and the second largest bird in the world – the largest is ostrich.
- There are three subspecies of emu in Australia.
- They are a big, brown, flightless bird that can reach up to 2 meters in height and run up to 70km per hour. Their long legs can make strides of up to 2.75 meters.
- They can live for over 20 years.
- They are curious creatures and have been known to watch and follow humans.
- They eat insects, plants and seeds and have been known to go for weeks without food. They also ingest stones and other hard bits to help grind their food in their stomach.
- Similar to camels, they don’t drink often, but when they do, they drink LOTS!
- Their two muscly legs are equipt with big feet, each with three clawed toes, which make great defence weapons.
- Emus breed once a year and can mate several times to lay several batches of eggs in one season. The eggs are incubated predominantly by the males and the eggs hatch after eight weeks, revealing fluffy chicks with brown and cream stripes. The dad brings the kids up and they are fully grown after about 12 months.
- The emu feather is very unique – there are two rhachies to every quill and the vanes are not held together by barbs like most other feathers, making the emu feather furry and loosely packed.
- Emu meat is low in fat, high in protein and has more vitamin C and iron than beef.
Cuteness Rating: If Keith Richards was an animal, he’d be an emu – they’re ugly.
Danger Rating: They have strong legs with massive clawed toes for kicking. Be careful you don’t get disemboweled.
Our Encounter: Emus were everywhere in the Flinders Ranges from the south down in Mount Remarkable National Park all the way up past Wilpena. We parked our car for lunch and a daddy emu and his six chicks strolled past the Troopy, and several times we’ve nearly hit a silly bush chook because it ran out onto the road.