Created ‘as is’ or retro ratite?

In 1959, missionary nurse Eleanor Smith1 ‘became a cassowary’, when the Suki tribe of Papua New Guinea’s Western Province allocated her to their cassowary clan. This was because of her auburn hair that matched this flightless bird’s red wattles (coloured folds of skin hanging from its neck).

The Suki people have long hunted cassowaries for their flesh, feathers, bones, and claws. The arrival of steel implements with European explorers and settlers has reduced the traditional use of the dagger-like cassowary claws as arrow heads and spear-tips, and of the long, strong leg bones to make knives. The bristly feathers have been used as decorative items of dress.

Cassowaries occur only in the wet tropical rainforest areas of Eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Northern Queensland (Australia). There are three distinct species: the Southern (or Double-Wattled), the Single Wattled, and the Dwarf Cassowary. The Southern Cassowary, Casuarius casuarius, is found throughout the region, and is the only one in Australia.2

Prior to European settlement, the cassowary was a rich source of protein in the diet of Melanesian and Australian Aboriginal people groups. However, the excellent camouflage of these magnificent birds, and their ability to move swiftly through heavy jungle undergrowth, has enabled them to elude many of the attempts by man (their main predator) to add them to the menu.

The world’s second largest living bird after the ostrich, the Southern Cassowary is also Australia’s largest land animal, and the continent’s heaviest bird (and tallest after the emu). Cassowaries can be fierce in defending their territory and/or their young, and their strong legs with sharp claws can deliver a ferocious kick. However, despite their reputation for being able to kill people, such incidents are extremely rare….

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