Skip to main content
sdzglibrarybanner San Diego Zoo Global Library

Cassowary (Casuarius spp.) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Population Status

Population estimates

  • Southern Cassowary (Birdlife International 2016b; Folch et al. 2017a)
    • Estimated 6,000-15,000 mature individuals; 10,000-20,000 total individuals
    • Population trend: decreasing
    • Fairly widespread in New Guinea (in remote forests), though rare or absent in some places where they were once common (usually near human population centers)
    • Only found in a few rainforest areas of northeast Queensland, Australia
      • Rapid decline since the 1970s
      • An estimated 2,500 birds in 2010; population declining
  • Northern Cassowary (Pratt and Beehler 2015; Birdlife International 2016c; Folch et al. 2017c, except as noted)
    • Populations poorly known, especially in northwestern New Guinea
    • Estimated 2,500-10,000 mature individuals; 3,500-15,000 total individuals
    • Population trend: declining
    • Locally common in some areas, but generally rare
      • Described as uncommon by some; least well known
    • More natural protection in remote forest areas
    • Heavily hunted in northern Papua (Jayapura region) (Pangau-Adam and Noske 2010)
    • May be a particularly vulnerable cassowary species due to its habitat preference for river floodplains (areas highly populated by humans)
  • Dwarf Cassowary (Folch et al. 2017b)
    • Generally scarce; locally common in northeast New Guinea
    • Rare or absent in areas of intense hunting pressure
    • Population estimates: unknown/not yet quantified
    • Populations believed to be declining more slowly than larger cassowary species (which live at lower elevations, closer to human-populated areas)
    • Dwarf Cassowary populations thought to be stable (Birdlife International 2016a)

Methods used to estimate cassowary population sizes

  • Understandings of home ranges and territory size may help to estimate population abundance for female Southern Cassowaries (Schwarz and Seber 1999; Campbell et al. 2012)
  • Scientists sometimes use surveys of feces and footprints to estimate cassowary abundance (e.g., Crome and Moore 1990; Moore 2007); may not be reliable, depending on distribution/frequency of scat and other assumptions (see Westcott 1999; Moore 2007)
  • Direct observation attempted in some places where members of the public identify individual birds (Crome and Bentrupperbäumer 1993; Bentrupperbäumer 1997)

Conservation Status

IUCN

  • Southern Cassowary: Least Concern (2017 assessment) (Birdlife International 2017a)
    • 1994-2016: Vulnerable (Birdlife International 2016b)
    • 1988: Lower Risk/least concern
  • Northern Cassowary: Least Concern (2017 assessment) (Birdlife International 2017b)
    • 1998-2016: Vulnerable (Birdlife International 2016c)
    • 1988: Lower Risk/least concern
  • Dwarf Cassowary: Least Concern (2016 assessment) (Birdlife International 2016a)
    • 2015: Least Concern
      • Hunting found not to be driving declines, as previously thought
      • Hunting in some areas, but not all; populations stable
    • 2004-2013: Near Threatened
    • 1988-2000: Lower Risk/near threatened

CITES

  • None of the three species are listed (as of Apr 2018)

Government of Indonesia

  • Several regulations exist (on paper) to protect forests, regulate wildlife hunting, and preserve plants and animals
    • Laws concerning illegal hunting are not enforced (Pangau-Adam and Noske 2010)
    • Aboriginal hunters and villagers are not aware of hunting laws (Pangau-Adam and Noske 2010)
      • Many transmigrant bird trappers seem to know of laws protecting Indonesian wildlife

Government of Australia

  •  

Threats to Survival

(Coates 1985; Pratt and Beehler 2015; Birdlife International 2016b; 2016c; Folch et al. 2017a; Folch et al. 2017c, and as noted)

New Guinea and Seram

  • Deforestation is the greatest threat to the long-term survival of cassowaries (see Pangau-Adam et al. 2015)
    • Industrial logging is making it possible for hunters to access previously inaccessible areas of forest
    • Cassowaries can tolerate moderately, but not severely disturbed habitats
      • Little food and water for cassowaries in logged or converted forest (few fruiting trees and water to drink)
  • Increased human population growth (Pangau-Adam et al. 2012)
  • Hunting and trade causing local extirpations/extinctions in New Guinea, especially of Southern and Northern Cassowary (Dwarf Cassowary not as impacted)
    • Hunting practices and wild meat trade (Pangau-Adam and Noske 2010; Pangau-Adam et al. 2012, except as noted)
      • Cassowaries being hunted at unsustainable levels
        • Intense hunting pressure near populated areas
        • Caught using snares, spears, dogs, and guns (Johnson 2000)
        • Increased use of firearms having a detrimental impact
        • Cassowaries are relatively easy to hunt: leave trails, cannot fly away, chicks make calls
      • Cassowaries and tree kangaroos (see SDZG Library tree kangaroo fact sheet) yield the most meat among New Guinea animals; vulnerable to extinction
      • Survival of cassowaries in areas where hunting occurs depends on local cultural practices, availability and use of weapons (whether hunting using firearms or traditional hunting predominates), and alternative sources of meat
    • Subsistence hunting (hunting that provides food for local people) has shifted towards commercial hunting (Pangau-Adam and Noske 2010; Pangau-Adam et al. 2012)
      • Transmigrant hunters, rather than Aboriginal hunters, involved in commercial live bird trade
      • Has broken down traditional laws (when to hunt, who could hunt) and other taboo beliefs, which afforded culture-based protection for cassowaries in the past
    • More vehicles and better infrastructure make it possible for hunters to transport animal products from remote areas to market towns (Pangau-Adam and Noske 2010; Pangau-Adam et al. 2012)
    • Cassowaries are the main target of the Genyem tribe in Jayapura region (Pangau-Adam and Noske 2010)
      • Fetch the highest prices among bird meats at market
      • Cassowary eggs also sold at market
    • Live trade, pet birds, and other cultural practices
      • Trapped in the forest and then sold to bird handlers in towns, or sold directly to private dealers (Pangau-Adam and Noske 2010)
        • Cassowaries, especially Dwarf Cassowaries, make up a large portion of animals traded and kept in captivity (Johnson et al. 2004)
      • When adults killed, eggs and chicks taken to villages and raised for trade or to be kept as pets
      • Traded long distances, so may be found in villages/towns outside their native range
      • Live birds traded or given as gifts during certain ceremonies
      • Feathers and bones used as clothing/body ornamentation and for tools/weapons (see Cultural History)

Australia [Southern Cassowary]

  • Forest clearing, especially of coastal lowlands (Crome and Moore 1990; Latch 2007)
    • Has slowed since 1990s, but still constantly occurs
  • Habitat fragmentation and housing developments (Bentrupperbäumer 1997; Latch 2007)
    • Cassowaries leave protected areas and enter human-altered landscapes (e.g., pastoral and agricultural lands, roadways, popular beaches) (Campbell et al. 2012)
      • Exposed to roadways, dogs, objects resulting in entanglement
  • Hit by motor vehicles (Kofron and Chapman 2006)
    • Cassowaries cross roads and feed on road kill (Bentrupperbäumer 1997)
    • Adult cassowaries struck more often than subadults and juveniles (Dwyer et al. 2016)
  • Attacked by dogs (feral dogs and dogs used by hunters); difficult to assess severity of this threat (Kofron and Chapman 2006)
    • Attacks often on chicks and subadults (Latch 2007; Nicole LaGreco, personal communication 2017)
  • Feral pigs prey on eggs/young and compete with cassowaries for food (Crome and Moore 1990; Nicole LaGreco, personal communication 2017)
  • Human disturbance, such as hand feeding (illegal in Australia) (Latch 2007)
  • Illegal trapping and shooting by humans (Crome and Moore 1990; Bentrupperbäumer 1997)
  • Diseases: e.g., aspergillosis, avian tuberculosis, and parasites (Latch 2007)
  • Cyclones (Birdlife International 2016b, except as noted)
    • Cause heat stress due to loss of forest canopy shade (Bentrupperbäumer 1997)
    • Reduce forest; cassowaries venture farther from cover and are hit by vehicles
    • Negatively impact cassowary food supplies (low fruit production)
    • Kill some cassowaries directly
    • Possibly increases susceptibility to disease (e.g., tuberculosis)

Management Actions

Note: The following information pertains to Southern and Northern Cassowaries only. No Conservation Actions are known to be currently in use for the Dwarf Cassowary (Birdlife International 2016a).

Habitat management

  • Prevention of forest clearing (Birdlife International 2016b)
  • Revegetate lands following logging and cyclones (Birdlife International 2016b)
  • Temporary feeding stations after cyclones (Birdlife International 2016b)
  • Maintenance of habitat corridors (Latch 2007)
  • Management of invasive plants in cassowary habitat (Latch 2007)

Government protections and scientific study

  • Recovery plans for Southern Cassowary in Australia (Latch 2007; Birdlife International 2016b)
  • Scientific studies (Birdlife International 2016b)
    • Population monitoring studies, including genetic structure
    • Habitat use
    • Assess the effects/sustainability of:
      • Logging and habitat fragmentation
      • Hunting and wildlife trade
      • Dogs, pigs, traffic, cyclones, disease in Australia
    • Document forest loss in New Guinea

Community education

  • Australia
    • Initiatives to reduce road- and dog-related mortality and injury (Latch 2007)
    • Citizen science projects to investigate cassowary density and behavior near roadways (Dwyer et al. 2016)
    • Public education in places where attract tourists, like Mission Beach, Queensland (Dwyer et al. 2016)
  • New Guinea and Papua
    • Surveys in villages to investigate sustainability of wildlife capture and trade (Birdlife International 2016c)
    • Interactive workshops with local communities to discuss the value of forests and possibilities of establishing nature reserves (Pangau-Adam et al. 2015)
    • Interactive workshops for researchers and university staff on the importance of cassowaries for forests and sustainable hunting (Brodie and Pangau-Adam 2015)
    • Encouraging hunters to hunt or raise other kinds of animals (Pangau-Adam et al. 2012)
      • Hunt non-native species, such as wild pig and rusa deer, which harm native habitats
      • Hunt bandicoots, which reproduce quickly
      • Raise pigs (farming)
    • Encouraging hunters not to take a chick from a parent bird with a single chick (only parent with multiple chicks) (Andrew Mack, personal communication, 2017)
    • Employing hunters as local guides for cassowary research projects; working to raise awareness of sustainable hunting (Brodie and Pangau-Adam 2015)

Forests Provide Protection

Southern Cassowary

Safeguarding dense forest habitat is the best way to protect cassowaries.

Industrial logging is making it possible for hunters to access previously inaccessible areas of forest.

Being flightless and forest-dependent fruit specialists, cassowaries are particularly vulnerable to overhunting and habitat loss.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

SDZG Library Links