Cassowary and Goanna in tropical rainforest

Cassowary on gravel road
Southern Cassowary

While I was in the Mission Beach rainforest (see previous post) I saw lots of local wildlife. The big, special, local species is of course the Cassowary, one of Australia’s (and the world’s) largest and heaviest birds. Indeed, wikipedia says it is, “the third tallest and second heaviest living bird, smaller only than the ostrich and emu.” There is only one Australian species of cassowary, the Southern Cassowary, Casuarius casuarius. Its range extends to New Guinea and nearby islands where it co-exists with the other two (smaller) species. For more information about it, visit this Department of Environment and Heritage Protection page.

rear view of cassowary
Cassowary about to re-enter the rainforest

Here in Australia it is endangered, largely because of habitat loss and consequential fatal interactions with cars and dogs. They are big enough to be a threat, in return, to humans but the statistics are as lop-sided for cassowaries as they are for sharks: there is just one recorded human death due to cassowary attack in the last hundred years.

When the one in my top photo emerged from the rainforest just a couple of metres from me I stood very still, posing no threat to it; it ignored me and walked ahead of me down the track before stepping calmly into the wall of greenery on the other side.

Dinosaur descendant 2

The next-largest creature I saw was another dinosaur-descendant, a metre-long goanna. It was roaming around near the resort buildings, looking rather scruffy because it was midway through shedding its skin. This Australian Museum page presents on overview of the family’s history. Australia has 25 species, all in the same genus, Varanus, and all rather similar in appearance except for their size. I think mine is a Lace Monitor, Varanus varius.

Goanna in leaf litter
Goanna shedding its skin

Most of the other wildlife I saw was very much smaller – skinks down to insects and spiders – because the numerous birds were constantly audible but only fleetingly visible. Many of the species are not found in the drier climate of Townsville and I have put 30 photos in an album on flickr, here, for anyone interested.

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