National Geographic : 2013 Sep
Cassowaries 75 work, and lobby instead for lower speed limits and more cassowary-crossing signs. “ There have been three dead birds in the last six weeks,” he said. He lifted the body out of the truck and put it in a freezer, to await an autopsy. As he did so, another cassowary appeared from behind a building, a jarring contrast between the majesty of the living and the mangled body of the dead. Roads also carve up the forest. And as the forest becomes more fragmented, it becomes harder for young cassowaries to find their own territories. Because these birds are so territorial, it takes a certain amount of suitable habitat to sustain a population at all. Which brings me to the other big problem: development. In Mission Beach a development called Oasis is typical. It has paved streets with names like Sandpiper Close, lined with streetlamps. But there are no houses yet: just empty lots, the grass neatly mown, garnished with For Sale signs. The only inhabitants are a flock of ibises, sheltering from the sun in the shade of the few remaining trees. And Dad doesn’t know it, but his forest has been put up for sale, which could see it cut down to make way for houses. Some locals are trying to prevent all this—clubbing together to buy land to create nature preserves, replanting rain forest trees on cleared land, and lobbying farmers not to cut down forest. The hope is to link forest fragments, so that young cassowaries looking for territories can move from one fragment to another without having to cross the open fields of sugarcane plantations, or big highways. For the cassowary depends on the forest even more than the forest depends on the cassowary. I want to leave you with a final image. I’m in the Daintree, the most intact piece of remaining forest. I’m standing by a fig tree, hoping to see Crinklecut—a young male—and his two chicks. Crinklecut’s territory overlaps that of Big Bertha, an enormous and regal female that is probably the chicks’ mother. A human family lives here too, with three children, plus a giant green tree frog that’s moved into the kitchen and lives in a frying pan. Suddenly the youngest of the children comes tearing through the trees to tell me that Crinkle- cut and his chicks are on their way to a nearby creek. As I come within sight of them, Crinklecut stretches up to his full height and looks at me. Then he and his chicks stroll off, into the dusk. j A pair of chicks parade past a doorway near Kuranda in northeast Queensland. They have outgrown their fuzz but will not sport a full coat of adult black feathers until they reach sexual maturity, around age four.