World Cassowary Day Throws Spotlight on Seaside Town's Mission: Please Slow Down

21 September, 2017

As Tropical North Queensland gears up to celebrate World Cassowary Day on September 24, 2017 to raise awareness of the threats against Australia's second largest bird, Mission Beach conservationist, Liz Gallie, believes the best way to ensure the species survives is to “slow down”.

Ms Gallie is part of a group of community wardens mobilised to erect bold signs along the major access points into Mission Beach warning motorists to drop their speed. Created by local school children, the colourful signs are put up as soon as a cassowary is sighted.

Hailed as the cassowary spotting capital of Australia, Mission Beach some 140 km south of Cairns, is home to an estimated 100 adult cassowary birds including Ms Cass, Joov, Bella, Tricia, Goondi and Cyrilina.  The cassowaries can be regularly spotted foraging along two of the region's four cassowary corridors, which also cross the major access points. 

“Tourism is a Catch 22,” said Ms Gallie. “We want tourism. We want to be known as the cassowary capital, but that also increases traffic.

“Cassowaries can run up to 50km an hour, but they are no match for the 80km per hour speed travelled by cars. The key is to slow down and to drive with the expectation that you will see one around the corner, or over the next crest.”  

“We want to become the 'slow down town'. We want visitors here to relax, to walk through the rain forest and to quietly enjoy this beautiful bird.”

Ms Gallie added that cassowaries are an iconic species and from a conservation point of view, they are also a keystone species.  

“People come from around the world come to see our biodiversity and the cassowaries is the highlight.”

The fourth World Cassowary Day will be held at Fogarty Park in Cairns on September 24. This free event is designed to celebrate the Southern Cassowaries and the actions that local communities are taking to protect this species and their habitats.

Jammed with conservation stalls and children's activities, it's also a chance to share information about how the community can redress cassowary threats such as sourcing funding from the private sector to buy back and protect cassowary habitat and changing driver behaviour.

World Cassowary Day 2017 Cairns is held in partnership with Rainforest Reserves Australia Inc.

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About Cassowary Spotting in Mission Beach:

With only 4000 birds left in the wild and a thick rainforest camouflage, finding a 60kg bird, some as big as two metres and bearing brilliant-blue necks and red wattles, is not easy.  Here are Liz Gallie's top tips for safe cassowary spotting in Mission Beach.

  1. Slow down. The biggest threat to cassowaries are cars, so please heed the slow down town mentality and enjoy the surroundings.
  2. If you spot a cassowary while driving, don't stop abruptly or you too could become a statistic.
  3. Early morning is the best time to see a cassowary. Grab a coffee, some mosquito repellent, find a place of big nature or a walking track and wait quietly.
  4. Look for a quiet spot near a water source - cassowaries love to access water.
  5. Don't look for the red or blue of the neck; the bright colours disappear in the rainforest. Scan the bush for the black mass or listen for the sound of twigs snapping as these heavy birds trek through the forest.
  6. Don't feed cassowaries. It's not only illegal, it will build an expectation of food (and maybe a karate kick). Worse, human food can cause cassowaries to die.
  7. Never approach chicks – no matter how cute they are – they have angry-bird Papas.
  8. Visit Mission Beach during the mating season in June or through to December when the small stripy chicks hang with their Dads.
  9. Check out the Mission Beach Cassowaries Facebook page and find out where the locals list the latest sightings.

About known activity spots in Mission Beach:

  1. The Dreaming Trail on El Arish Mission Beach Road: The three-kilometre rainforest Dreaming Trail is the best place to spot a cassowary in the wild and worth doing just to understand the immense biodiversity of the Mission Beach region.
  2. Mission Beach access roads: Both the Tully-Mission Beach and the El Arish Mission Beach access roads cut through the cassowary's large foraging range. Birds are often spotted in the morning and late afternoons as they cross the busy roads.
  3. Mitre 10, on the corner of Dewer Street: This lime green building sits right next to a cassowary corridor and is a great place to spot a bird.
  4. Beachcomber Coconut Holiday Park: This immaculately landscaped holiday park near Wongaling Beach at the south of Mission Beach borders a cassowary conservation park and the giant birds have been seen bobbing their heads up and down as they eat seedlings from the forest.
  5. The South Mission Beach Transfer Station: This must be the only dump in the world that has a cassowary, instead of the ibis, as its resident winged forager. The Mission Beach tip is known haunt for a family of cassowaries as it happens to cross paths with a cassowary corridor.
  6. Garner's Beach: The area around Bingil Bay Reserve is a known habitat or four adult cassowaries, including Cyrilina and a bottleneck crossing to the World Heritage area in the south.
  7. Etty Bay: Etty Bay is a treacle-slow, beachside village some 50km north of Mission Beach. It's dog-free status is thought to be the reason that cassowary spotting – at the right time - is almost a guarantee.