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Australia |  A fearsome “dinosaur” bird is in danger of extinction

Australia | A fearsome “dinosaur” bird is in danger of extinction

(Early Beach) With clawed feet, piercing eyes and a neon blue neck worthy of a velociraptor: the helmeted cassowary is a mighty bird of the tropical forests of northern Australia, but with only a few thousand individuals still in the wild, it is at risk of extinction.

Peter Rolls, head of a local group that protects these endangered birds, notes: “This is a modern-day dinosaur.

However, it's best to admire these birds with their 10-centimeter-long sharp claws from afar, like humans.

Fiercely protective of their territory, they hiss and emit deep growls when threatened.

“When you first see them, it's scary because they have big eyes and they look straight at you,” says Peter Rolls, who admits they have a 'slightly fierce look'.

Photo by David Gray, Agence France-Presse

Peter Rolls

These flightless birds are found only in Australia, New Guinea Island and some Pacific Islands.

The Australian government considers them an endangered species and estimates there are about 4,500 left in the wild. They are part of the “keystone species”, meaning they play an important role in maintaining biodiversity and dispersing tropical forest seeds.

If these cassowaries disappear, tropical rainforests will suffer.

“If we can save the cassowary, we believe we can save enough of its habitat to keep many species alive,” Mr Rolls said.

His association is stepping up efforts to save these fearsome birds, which measure up to 1.5 meters and weigh up to 75 kg.

They are working to install signs to encourage drivers to slow down, redesign roads to better protect natural habitats, and operate a hospital for injured birds.

Major threats to the helmeted cassowary are car collisions, habitat clearing, dog attacks and climate change.

Photo by David Gray, Agence France-Presse

“Cassiovaris are not aggressive when treated well,” says Mr. Rawls asserts that few human deaths are caused by this species.

In 1926 a young Australian was killed chasing one of these birds, which severed his jugular vein, while a man in Florida died in 2019 after being attacked by his pet cassowary.

“Naturally Irritating”

In the last 300 years, about 100 species of Australian flora and fauna have disappeared from the planet.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the pace is likely to increase.

“There's a lot to do and not enough resources to make a significant impact,” WWF Australia's Darren Grover said.

“Over 2000 species are on the Australian government's threatened species list, and more are added every year,” he notes.

Climate change, habitat loss and invasive species are all threats, Mr. Grover explains.

The Australian government, in collaboration with indigenous associations and conservation groups, has drawn up a national plan to save this iconic bird.

Photo by David Gray, Agence France-Presse

Most of Australia's conservation efforts focus on protecting keystone species, which were developed by zoologists in the 1960s.

Grover says this is the best approach when resources are scarce because it has knock-on effects on other animals in the ecosystem.

But this strategy is limited, he warns. “I don't think we can do enough to save Australia's wildlife.” “Cassivaris are an extraordinary species and any chance we get to see them in the wild would be fantastic.”

“But you have to be careful, because they're naturally crazy birds, they're big and powerful, and we have to give them some space.”

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