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The Cassowary: World’s most dangerous bird (2016) (smithsonianmag.com)
111 points by seventyhorses 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments



Seeing a cassowary up close really feels like being able to see a dinosaur. They've got those three-toed dinosaur feet with legs as thick as yours, giant yellow saucer eyes, iridescent skin and a weird head horn. It watches back at you. You really feel like you're looking at a dinosaur. Only thing it's missing is the teeth and maybe forelimbs. Otherwise it's like 80% of a dinosaur.


Having experienced being chased by a cassowary I cannot agree more, it felt like being in a Jurassic park movie being chased by a T-Rex.

I visited Australia in January 2005, it was an organized road tour with a bunch of mainly young French people and a French guide. On the way to the outback near Cairns, we stopped and did a short hike in the forest to see a point of interest (I don't remember what). There was a warning sign in the parking lot about cassowaries. I had never seen a cassowary, even heard the name and didn't know what it was, like many of the people in the group. On the way back, we spotted a cassowary, it was static just a few meters from the track. We all took pictures but stayed on the track, at some point the cassowary probably felt threatened and started chasing us. We all ran, I remember looking back at it while being chased and it ran like a Jurassic park dinosaur. It was moving really fast, at an intersection, we all turned left downhill going away from the parking lot and it stopped chasing us. It never went on the track and it always staid in the forest, it could have easily outrun us.

After I learnt the kind of injuries it could inflict to humans. The guide should have been more careful. Anyway it was a fun story to tell when I got home.


You were in Australia.

Generally speaking, when we put a warning sign up about an animal it's worth assuming the worst.


You only get a relatively small sign on north Queensland beaches warning of the presence of salt-water crocs and bluebottle jellyfish.


Bluebottles are basically harmless - they hurt, and if you're particularly unlucky you might even scar. Nothing be scared of.

Box jellyfish (Irukandji) are a different story. These days there's a good chance you'll live (if you get to hospital), but you'll be in extreme pain for days or even weeks.


I saw a pair up close in a parking lot near some sight in the Daintree, north of Cairns. Knowing what they were I immediately retreated, but a lot of people crowded in taking photos... This pair just walked past the cars and back out the other side of the lot but it did seem like a bullet was dodged :D


Yeah, we have one (or maybe two?) at our local zoo and the setup is such that I was able to be eye-to-eye with one of them from less than two feet. That thing held my gaze with zero fear whatsoever of me. Unbelievable experience. It's a freakin' war machine. And strikingly beautiful as well.


In Brisbane right? That's where I took this picture:

https://www.thomasdons.nl/pht/original/australia-new-zealand...


No, in the US. It's a crappy small cage, maybe 20' square.


That struck me too the couple of times I've seen them in the wild. I found it evoked a certain awe to come across such a strange and magnificent creature just doing its own thing out there in the forest.


It looks pretty much (including the toothless beak) just the way a medium-large oviraptosaur would look like, at least in my mind.


And the feet. Compare the feet of a Cassowary to that of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.


and they can make a terrifying sound to warn you


All birds are dinosaurs.


I suspect that most people know that - it's just that the cassowary looks a lot more like our notion of a dinosaur than other birds.


> I suspect that most people know that

I don't think so. Spielberg and colleagues clearly didn't know it, or didn't realize the depth of the connection, and they influenced the public's perception of dinosaurs to a large degree.


> Spielberg and colleagues clearly didn't know it

I don't think this is true at all. Micheal Creighton's book on which the movie was based made it really clear how birds and dinosaurs are connected. I am positive that Speilberg read it.

The movie makes a lot of references to the connection:

Dr. Alan Grant : A turkey, huh? OK, try to imagine yourself in the Cretaceous Period. You get your first look at this "six foot turkey" as you enter a clearing. He moves like a bird, lightly, bobbing his head. And you keep still because you think that maybe his visual acuity is based on movement like T-Rex - he'll lose you if you don't move. But no, not Velociraptor. You stare at him, and he just stares right back. And that's when the attack comes. Not from the front, but from the side.

Later:

Dr. Alan Grant : [the dinosaurs change direction] The wheel uniform changes just like a flock of birds evading a predator.

In another scene:

Lex : [the T-Rex has just killed a Gallimimus] I want to go now.

Dr. Alan Grant : Look how it eats.

Lex : Please!

Dr. Alan Grant : [to Tim] I bet you'll never look at birds the same way again.


Agreed, I watched a documentary on how the special effects and sound people used birds as a reference to design the velociraptors.


And hopefully your local parakeet isn't trying to disembowel you...


A cassowary recently killed a man, apparently for the first time since 1926:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2019/04/14/florida-ca...

This article from 2008 is also interesting:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/invasion-of-th...


In the WaPo article:

"In 2012, an Australian tourist named Dennis Ward was kicked off a cliff into a body of water by a cassowary when he and his family were visiting Babinda Boulders in Queensland. 'It just came straight up to me, decided to pick on me for some reason, I don’t know what for,' Ward told the Cairns Post."

I shouldn't be laughing but that is an outrageous story.


Maciej /@idlewords has a wonderful post about the Daintree rain forest where the cassowary makes a star appearance:

https://idlewords.com/2013/02/the_daintree_rain_forest.htm


The Daintree, like most of our ecosystems, is in rapid decline: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/30/climate-...


Every post by @idlewords is a treat.


Ive encountered a few one in the wild back in the daintree forest and I didn't got threatened at all as they were just walking through.

When it comes to accidents, never heard about anything whereas the same can't be say about the salt water crocodile that live in the very same region

Fun fact, the female casswory is much bigger than the male and it's considered down there as the gardener of the forest because it eats all sort seeds that when poo get all the nutriment it needs to grow, pretty amazing bird.


Yes, it really gets old the constant hyping of Australian fauna as 'dangerous', mostly it seems by US American media. Cassowaries in the wild are really not a danger to humans even though they have the potential to do possibly lethal harm. The cassowary is only going to act to defend itself; it's not a predator (unlike salties).


Of course. There are attacks, but the cases are tiny in number. Anyone who has lived here knows that bogans are by far the most dangerous wildlife species here.

(It's a shame that Australia is known for its wildlife being dangerous to humans, whereas the reality -- that our humans are extremely dangerous to wildlife, often choosing to drive whole species to extinction -- is less well advertised)


Do you think it's unfair to classify it as the most dangerous bird? What other would qualify?


Sorry to be a bore, but it really depends on what someone means by 'dangerous'.

If you mean 'potentially dangerous if encountered', then I guess it would be. When it comes to birds that might slice your abdomen open, it's in a class of its own.

If you mean 'actually dangerous in terms of causing injuries or deaths', you could say most. But the baseline for death-by-bird is so low that the word 'dangerous' seems a bit daft (Cassowaries exist in decreasing numbers in areas of relatively low human populations, are infrequently encountered and not usually aggressive). On the numbers, if Cassowaries are 'dangerous', then dogs, horses and cattle are all catastrophically homicidal.


> When it comes to birds that might slice your abdomen open, it's in a class of its own.

Right. I don't think the intent here is "look how deadly Australia is!" as much as "here's a crazy animal rarely talked about that recently was in the news."

As an American, I think the assumption is that, say, the outback is a sparsely populated area with some dangerous wildlife like swaths of Africa and South America.

When I think of Australia my head goes to the coasts.


> When I think of Australia my head goes to the coasts

Right. That's where we (nearly) all live. As it happens, cassowaries are also coastal creatures, but exclusively tropical. The tropics have been sparsely populated, though North Queensland has been 'growing' fast, so unfortunately the cassowary's days are numbered.


In Australia you're much more likely to be injured by a magpie than a cassowary.

https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/injury/injuries-involving-ma...


Can confirm. Have encountered more magpies than cassowaries and have been attacked by more magpies than cassowaries. Not much of a pain, but if you're on a bike on a busy road it's somewhat more threatening...


When I was in the Daintree region - more than thirty years ago - the recent saltwater croc takings being talked about were an American woman and a German shephard dog. Folklore was all about the crocs - I was only vaguely aware of the cassowary as a kind of weirded out ostrich.

But of course we all know that Australian fauna in just about any shape means business the hard way.


How likely is it that dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus or the Velociraptor had some kind of fur like the cassowary (or feathers)? I always felt that their bodies looked weirdly out of proportion [0] in popular illustrations, almost like a plucked chicken [1].

[0] https://www.thoughtco.com/thmb/EaQOPDdeGgFBYevW9HZbBaraI8U=/...

[1] https://thespearnews.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/image52.jpg...

E: Appearently not that unlikely https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feathered_dinosaur


Bulmer's essay, "Why the Cassowary is not a bird" was the first item on the reading list for my first year undergraduate Sociology course back in 1980 in which he argues "The cassowary is not a bird because it enjoys a unique relationship in Karam thought to man." The Karam are the people of the upper Kaironk Valley in the Schrader Mountains of New Guinea to whom the Cassowary has totemic significance.


The only thing more dangerous than a Cassowary are the tourists that stop in the middle of the highway to photograph them. They're pretty elusive in the wild and spotting them on the edge of the bush as you drive by is the most likely scenario, so likely in fact there are signs in FNQ warning people not to stop on the road when they spot one!


> Of course, Sara Hallager, the zoo’s curator of birds, adds that the keepers have a relationship with “every bird out here, except perhaps the flamingoes.”*

OT: What does that star(*) denote? I'm always irritated if i can't find the corresponding footnote.


Probably this in the end:

"Editor's note October 7, 2016: An earlier version of this article stated that Sara Hallager was the Zoo's keeper of birds; she is the curator."

Which still keeps me wondering why the flamingos?


Zoos with flamingos tend to have a lot of them. I would guess they are hard to tell apart.


Now I know why they are so badass in Far Cry 3!


Never let a bird see your back.


Rimworld makes a lot more sense now.


You guys are everywhere


While I appreciate the free content, it’s annoying how there are more advertisements on that page than pictures of the bird.




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