September 19, 2022
Credit: Ondrej Prosicky / Alamy Stock Photo
Seeing a pair of cassowaries is a rare thing on Cape York Peninsula, site of a new national park made up of reclaimed indigenous land. Traditional owners say it is a sign of ancestors.
Two southern cassowaries (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii) were sighted in Cape York Peninsula, Far North Queensland (FNQ) this week, only the third confirmed sighting of the species in the area in four years.
After two weeks of searching, Gomaroi man and DeadlyScience Founder and CEO Corey Tutt recently made the one-off sighting while walking the Marrdja Boardwalk in the Daintree Rainforest.
Widely recognized as one of the most dangerous birds in the world, the southern cassowary is unique to FNQ. It is the third largest and second heaviest living bird in the world and is currently classified as Vulnerable by the Australian Government Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Under the Queensland Government Nature Conservation Act 1992 The Wet Tropics population south of Cape York is listed as Vulnerable, while the Cape York population is listed as Vulnerable.
Ipima Ikaya Aboriginal Corporation Chairman and Gudang Yadhaigana Traditional Owner Reginald Williams described Corey’s encounter with two cassowaries as extraordinary.
“It’s once in a lifetime to see both of them together,” he said. “It is very rare for us to see even a cassowary. We usually encounter emus but not cassowaries.
“It’s very exciting.”
The sighting comes in the same week that the Queensland government returned more than 362,000 hectares of peninsular land to the Gudang/Yadhaykenu, Atambaya and Angkamuthi (Seven Rivers) peoples.
Consists of a 319,300 ha national park (Aboriginal land of the Cape York Peninsula). [CYPAL]) and 42,799 hectares of Aboriginal land – the equivalent of 676,000 football pitches – it includes land formerly known as Jardine River National Park, Denham Group National Park, parts of Heathlands and Jardine River Reserves and two offshore islands. It was named Apudthama NP (CYPAL).
“We’ve waited a long time for this,” said Reginald. “It has been returned and is managed jointly with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. We now work side by side with them.”
Adult cassowaries can reach speeds of up to 50 km/h and grow up to 2 m in height. Females are slightly larger and can weigh up to 76 kg; Males can weigh up to 55 kg.
There are three extant cassowary species, including the southern one. The northern and pygmy cassowaries are both found in New Guinea.
Cassowaries are solitary and only come together during the mating season from June to October.
Traditional owner of Gudang Yadhaigana, Nicholas Thompson, said the cassowary has a special connection to traditional owners in the area.
“Cassowaries have a very strong cultural connection to the land here,” he said. “It’s a totem for some of the families who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“As we got our traditional land back I think wildlife will come back naturally. We’re already beginning to see it. It is a blessing from our ancestors.”
what’s in a name
The new Apudthama NP (CYPAL) area represents the largest contiguous area of heathland on the Cape York Peninsula and includes other diverse landscapes such as grasslands, high-altitude lakes, open forests, cloud forests, wetlands and mangroves interspersed with islands within the Great Barrier Reef World connected heritage area.
“The government has returned more than 4.3 million hectares to traditional owners on Cape York – the size of Switzerland,” said Environment and Great Barrier Reef Minister Meaghan Scanlon.
“These parks are home to unique plants and animals including the cuscus, the painted jardine turtle and are the northernmost extension of the southern cassowary. The Yamarrinh Wachangan Islands (Denham Group) National Park (CYPAL) supports turtle and seabird nesting and is a great example of how by focusing on land and people we can better protect the environment.”
Reginald said the land return was a long time coming.
“Our elders are very proud and honored that our land is now in the rightful hands of the indigenous people.
“I am proud to say that we are now reviving our dreams that were denied to us.”