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Cassowary (Casuarius spp.) Fact Sheet: Managed Care

History of Managed Care

Zoos, general

  • Long history in zoo settings (Biggs 2013)
  • 1597: Dutch traders bring a cassowary from New Guinea (Banta Island/Java) to Amsterdam; first time a cassowary is displayed to the public in Europe (Rothschild 1900)
    • Later housed at the Hague and re-gifted to European royalty several times
  • 16th and 17th centuries: Wealthy European collectors obtain cassowaries for display in private menageries (Shaw 1979)
  • 1862 and 1863: London Zoo reports hatching two cassowary chicks, but neither survive (Shaw 1979)
  • 1957: First cassowary chick successfully reared in any U.S. Zoo—at the San Diego Zoo; named “Henry II,” after his parents, “Henry” and “Henrietta” (see below) (Stott 1963; San Diego Zoo Global History Timeline)

San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

  • Mid-1920s: Cassowaries first held in the San Diego Zoo’s collection (Cassowary: San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants)
  • 1925: A young male Southern Cassowary arrives with a large shipment of animals from Australia (Benchley 1945; Cassowary: San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants)
    • “Cassy” was allowed to freely roam around the Zoo, “this being the best for his health”
    • Cassowaries later acquired by the San Diego Zoo were maintained in enclosures
  • 1926: A Southern Cassowary named “Henry” arrives; would live at the San Diego Zoo for more than 30 years (Shaw 1979; Cassowary: San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants)
  • 1929: A pair of Southern Cassowaries arrive at the San Diego Zoo (Cassowary: San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants)
  • 1940s: Cassowaries brought from Indonesia by then Curator of Birds, Karl Koch (Stott 1981)
    • First Dwarf and Northern Cassowaries arrive at the San Diego Zoo (Cassowary: San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants)
  • Ca. 1988: “Violet,” the Dwarf Cassowary, joins the bird collection at the Safari Park (Worley and Scott 2007; Nicole LaGreco, personal communication 2017)
    • Lived at the Safari Park for 19 years before being moved to the San Diego Zoo
    • In 2007, “Violet” was mostly likely the only Dwarf Cassowary on exhibit in North America
  • Southern Cassowaries in the Safari Park’s Walkabout Australia exhibit
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Husbandry

General

  • AZA Species Survival Plan in place for Southern Cassowary
    • Cassowaries are managed under the Struthioniformes Taxon Advisory Group
    • North American Regional and International Studbooks are held at the San Diego Zoo (Nicole LaGreco, personal communication 2017)
  • Identification
    • Individuals in a zoo collection identified using shape/coloration/markings on casque, bill, and wattles; also markings on legs and feet (Biggs 2013)
    • Permanent identification with microchips recommended, rather than wing tags or leg bands (Biggs 2013)
  • Utmost care must be taken during handling and transport; incorrect handling can result in injury to keepers and/or cassowaries (Biggs 2013)
  • Introductions between birds should be made thoughtfully (Biggs 2013)
  • Care must be taken to develop tolerance between cassowaries in managed care (e.g., for breeding programs) (Biggs 2013)
  • May be aggressive towards some other animals in their enclosure (Biggs 2013)

Diet in managed care

  • Adults and juveniles require a combination of fruits and protein; juveniles require more protein than adults (Biggs 2013)
    • Sometimes also peas, sweet potato, carrot, alfalfa, worms, and insects
    • See Appendix 12 of Biggs (2013)
  • Supplemental vitamins and minerals, such as calcium carbonate or decomposed granite, also sometimes appropriate (Biggs 2013)
  • Food passes quickly through a cassowary’s digestive tract; often need to eat a lot of food (10% of body weight) (Romer 1997)
  • Changes in appetite and food preferences observed throughout the year (Biggs 2013)
    • Amount of food varies from less than 1 to 15 kg per day
  • Low appetite may co-occur with egg production (females) and reduced metabolism during incubation (males), but more research is needed
  • See p. 72-79 of Biggs (2013) for interesting discussion

Shelters and enclosures

  • Cassowaries require a lot of space (Biggs 2013)
  • Require shade as well as shelter against excessive cold (Biggs 2013)
  • Recommended that exhibits have complex land contours and varied (combinations of) substrates recommended (Biggs 2013)
  • Water sources recommended; sprinklers double as enrichment (Romer 1997; Biggs 2013)
  • Biggs (2013) notes that, in some instances, some cassowaries raised together may not be aggressive towards each other; may not need to house separately

Breeding in zoos

  • Difficult to breed (Göritz et al. 1997; Biggs 2013)
  • Creative housing approaches needed to simulate cassowary’s social system in the wild, where birds have mate choices (Biggs 2013)
    • May not be best to keep as breeding pairs
  • Changes in behavior during times of breeding (Wright 1988; Biggs 2013)
    • Decreased food consumption by both the male and female
    • More grunting and humming heard by keepers
    • Females more tolerant of males leading up to and during the breeding season
    • Male may encourage a female to assume a copulation posture by preening certain areas of her back and neck, or possibly by stroking the rump of the female with his foot
  • Incubation period for artificially incubated eggs is about 47-54 days (Biggs 2013; Nicole LaGreco, personal communication 2017)

Enrichment at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (Andrew Stehly, personal communication, 2017)

  • Fruit-bearing plants within enclosures to encourage natural foraging behaviors
  • Providing a variety of food items in the birds' diet
  • Use of boomer balls, cones, and other enrichment objects
  • Also see ASAG Struthioniformes TAG Enrichment Newsletters

Birds of the World

Promotional poster for cassowaries in circus

An 1898 promotional poster for Forepaugh & Sells Brothers Circus. Two cassowaries with red casques are shown front, center.

From the mid-1800s through the early 1900s, cassowaries, along with ostriches and other flightless birds, were often exhibited in U.S. circus menageries (Williams 2013, p. 150).

Image credit: Strobridge Lithographic Co. via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

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