For purely dramatic and entertainment reasons, I will start this story at the end.
If you have a reasonably fast internet connection, you have already guessed the Cassowary Encounter happened but what may surprise you as much as it surprised me, is how close I came to a nasty end.
So to start at the end, the day after we I met the cassowaries we were having breakfast at a small zoo just north of Port Douglas, the owner was kind enough to feed us after we struggled to find a café nearby after visiting Wonga Beach. She had a cassowary on site and I mentioned that we had seen some in the wild yesterday.
Cassowary in the bush
She told us there were a few around recently, and that she had heard that some tourists were actually stupid enough to get out of their cars to get a closer look.
‘Not wise?’ I asked her, quietly.
‘Put it this way’, she smiled. ‘My husband has to deal with two dangerous animals here, crocodiles and cassowaries. He much prefers dealing with a cranky croc, as a croc that’s mad at you will come straight for you. An angry cassowary, on the other hand, will disappear from your sight, circle around and try to disembowel you from the side with its razor sharp toe.’
‘What usually makes them angry?’, I asked.
‘Lots of things, they are temperamental birds,’ she replied. ‘In particular they don’t like people going near their food and they are particularly protective of their young. People are crazy to get out of their cars and approach them.’
‘Yes,’ I agree. ‘Stupid tourists.’
Cape Kimberly Beach
The day before we got up early and headed north from Port Douglas for about forty minutes until we hit the Daintree River Ferry, the symbolic start to the Daintree Forest area.
After buying our expensive return ticket we headed up the road towards Cape Tribulation. Our first stop was the lesser visited Cape Kimberly, one of many idyllic beaches on the Daintree Coast.
It’s a bit out of the way compared to the other beaches, but well worth a side trip if you have the time. There is a camp ground right on the beach and also a guest house if you want to stay over.
We only stayed for a few hours, taking it easy and exploring the nearby rainforest.
I had only just purchased my new Tamron 150-600mm lens and was keen to find some local birdlife, but had no luck amongst the coconut trees lining the beach foreshore. This changed on the way back to the main road.
Cassowaries on the Road
The road back was a small dirt track, so we were driving slowly to avoid damage, when up ahead I noticed two cassowaries standing in the middle of the road, a large adult and a younger smaller one.
I slowed down and pulled to the side, got out of the car and walked towards them.*
They were a good hundred metres away when I first started my approach, and by the time I got to where I first saw them they were gone. I scanned the nearby brush and tracked some movement behind me. I retreated along the road and all of a sudden found myself looking directly into the eyes of the adult cassowary.
Side Road Cassowary
I quickly shot off some pictures, edging slightly closer to my target as I went, careful not to spook her. I must have crossed into her comfort zone as she started to make this warbling noise with her throat, which caused me to back off in a hurry.
I stood back, just admiring her for a minute, while she stared back, no doubt sizing me up. I walked back to the car without incident and we continued our drive up to Cape Tribulation.
On the way back we encountered two more lots of cassowaries. These birds were just off the main roads and were minding their own business, foraging for fallen berries and fruit. Whenever a bird was spotted all traffic would immediately halt while they walked pass. No one got out and tried to approach the birds.
Cassowary foraging on side of road
So, I really enjoyed my encounter with these cassowaries, they are a majestic bird and completely wild and free.
In hindsight I regret approaching the birds, more so for causing them any distress than the possible danger I was in, and in the future will remain in the car at all times, or at a respectful distance if I see them in the bush.
*Based on advice from a zoological adviser, this behaviour is reckless and can lead to injury. Do not try this at home.
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