I asked a friend of mine what his most feared Australian animal was and his reaction was instant enough to surprise me: the Cassowary. Why? “Because it’s got an axe for a head and can kick you to death."
It’s hard to argue with that. The Cassowary is the second largest bird in the world, if you go by weight. (The Emu is a little taller.) A full sized female adult Southern Cassowary is rocking as much as 85kg (nearly 190lb) of feathery terror, and stands nearly two metres tall.
The axe head is probably the most prominent thing about them, and that’s saying something for a 2m tall bird with a bright blue face. On top of their head is a bony plate up to 18cm tall. It looks like a weapon, but it’s not. It’s not entirely clear what it’s for, but it’s not “an axe”. It may be a helmet to stop fruit falling on their head or them smacking into things as they run through the rainforest. (These are genuine issues in a cassowary’s life.) It may be that it’s also for shedding heat. The Southern Cassowary lives in the very north of Australia because they’re shit at geography. It’s hotter than hell up there and getting rid of some heat is not a bad idea.
But they’re not without weaponry. A cassowary’s foot has a 13cm (5 inch long) spike on it, and it’s disturbingly sharp. They’ve got a permanent dagger sticking out of their foot, like that asshole in Roadhouse.
They’re willing to use them. While naturally they’re timid and usually hide before they’re ever seen, humans feeding them has made them bold, and sometimes aggressive.
Their dagger foot can lash out, slashing open a person’s stomach or cutting an artery. While injuries are fairly common, fatalities are rare. One of the few well-documented cases was in 1926 when two brothers ran across one and were attacked. One of them was knocked to the ground and the other was knocked to the ground then kicked in the throat. His throat was severed and he died almost instantly. Like that other asshole in Roadhouse.
Of course, the boys didn’t just “run across it”. They heard it was there, and decided to get some sticks and beat it to death. So frankly, screw them, I’m glad he died.
This is not unusual, of course. 75% of animal attacks in Australia are from people trying to kill or catch things. The same rules apply to Cassowaries that apply to pretty much everything else horrible in Australia. Don’t try to kill them, don’t try to catch them.
And definitely don’t try to cook them. Cassowary recipes say to include a medium sized stone in with the bird. When the rock is soft, the cassowary should be, too.
Because humans suck they’re running out of places to live and tend to get hit by cars a lot. As a result cassowaries are endangered. A recent cyclone in their home range killed as many as 10% of the remaining population.