|Image from Australian Wildlife Conservancy|
The Sothern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius)1 is listed as vulnerable on the Australian endangered species list. They belong to the group of birds called Ratites, which also include ostriches, emus, rheas, and kiwis. None of them have the keel present in flighted birds, but have developed into strong runners.
They are strong kickers too. All of the ratites defend themselves with their sharp claws on their strong legs. Cassowaries are especially infamous for this. I had heard that they are able to disembowel a person, but I’m having problems finding any reliable source that confirms this. Not that they would eat anyone; they’re technically frugivores, and are a useful species for spreading the seeds of rainforest plants.
The name “Cassowary” comes from the Papuan word for the bird, which means “Horned Head.” The horn to which this name refers is also known as a casque. The purpose of the casque is only guessed at, with hypotheses ranging from pushing through rainforest foliage to establishing dominance. I haven’t seen anybody talking about why they’re bright blue with huge wattles, though.
Cassowaries are solitary animals, though, when they do get together, the males are subordinate to the females, since they’re smaller. The females lay several clutches of eggs, and then they leave. The males incubate the eggs and take care of the young, which look like zebra/leopard/goslings, and are fairly annoyingly cute.
As rainforest animals, the major threat comes in the form of habitat destruction for agricultural and developmental purposes. This also leads to fragmented populations, which has genetic diversity implications. Traffic accidents are becoming more frequent, and nobody wants to run into a four-foot tall, 130-pound bird with a helmeted head. The Australian government has conservation efforts in place, including education efforts
1The Northern Cassowary (C. unappendiculatus) is also listed as vulnerable, but there isn’t much difference between the species, so I just picked one.