Who said dinosaurs went extinct? The Southern Cassowary certainly doesn’t think so…
Deep in the rainforests – and occasionally patrolling the beaches, roads and campgrounds of Far North Queensland – an ancient creature struts its stuff. A tall casque sits atop its head whilst two wattles droop from it’s neck – yes, it’s a Southern Cassowary. The Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuaris) is a large flightless bird found in North Queensland and Papua New Guinea. They forage on the Forest Floor for fruits, of which some can only be digested by the Southern Cassowary; hence the importance of protecting this federally listed endangered species.
The cassowary has coarse hair-like feathers which give it a glossy and rough appearance when seen close up. Its wing stubs carry a small number of long, modified quills which curve around the body and appear rather imposing but serve little function other than decoration. Each heavy, well-muscled leg has three toes, with the inside toe bearing a large 12cm long dagger-shaped claw used for fighting other birds, not humans as we have been led to believe. Newly-hatched chicks are striped dark brown and creamy white for approximately 6 months then the stripes fade and the plumage changes to plain brown. As the young mature, the plumage darkens, the wattles and casque develop and the skin colour on the neck and wattles brighten.
There are 5 factors in the decline in numbers of the Southern Cassowary, that have made it an Endangered species:
- Ongoing loss of habitat through clearing for residential development and agricultural expansion
- Fragmented habitat – ever decreasing forest size (especially from roads and subdivisions)
- Car strikes – road kills are the number one cause of adult cassowary deaths
- Feral pigs – impact on their habitat and eat eggs
- Dogs – attack cassowaries and can often cause death because they are especially aggressive to chicks and juveniles. This also leads to a dislike of Cassowaries by civilians as it encourages a mentality of ‘the Cassowary attacked my poor dog’ regardless of the truth of the situation in which the dog most likely initiated conflict and the Cassowary is a native Endangered species whilst dogs are declared a pest when feral.
Unfortunately the media does not portray any species of Cassowary in a positive light but as I discovered on my trip to Cape York, the Southern Cassowary is one of the most curious, inquisitive and pleasant birds to share company with, and certainly not deserving of the reputation it has been given. The only time to exhibit extreme caution around the Southern Cassowary is when the Male is taking care of young chicks and even in this situation if you give them room to move you will be fine. If you do stumble across one with young, and it does get defensive, the best option is to hide behind an object, like a tree, or try to appear taller than you are by putting your hands in the air.
I encourage you to slow down when driving through the bush no matter where you are in Australia but also treat yourself and go looking for Cassowary this year, if you’d like to see Southern Cassowary in the wild feel free to contact us on Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can recommend locations to see these ancient and misunderstood birds.
There is a piece of bushland known as Byles Creek Valley which is home to many different animals, and is even a stronghold for many threatened species such as the Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) and the Red-crowned Toadlet (Pseudophryne australis). This amazing bushland is found at the bottom of Malton Rd, Cheltenham in the northern suburbs of Sydney, and is considered a natural treasure by many of the locals. Unfortunately, a developer has purchased this piece of land with full intent of destroying it and developing it. Thankfully the community is in opposition due to the natural history of the area, and the presence of threatened animals also warrants special conditions and restrictions of development.
However…. On the 17th of February 2017, the council was alerted that trees were being felled on this iconic site. Council staff and other concerned residents attended the seen immediately. It was determined that the logging contractors were engaged by the property owner to carry out land clearance and tree felling. In this instance the property owner has acted illegally and unlawfully, going against the conditions set out by the Land and Environment Court.
Not only were 20 trees cut down, some of them potential roosting sites for the local threatened Powerful Owl, there were copious amounts of rubbish left within the bush. It’s infuriating how much damaged and destruction can occur in one day from one mans selfish greedy decision. Everyone should be outraged by this blatant disregard for the environment from this property owner. They clearly have no empathy for the native plants and animals who call this area home, and would happily wreak havoc and put threatened species more at risk of extinction, just for short term monetary gains. They will even go against the law to get what they want. The only word that comes to mind when thinking of someone like this is GREED.
Please share this post far and wide so that this atrocity is highlighted. We can’t let crimes against nature like this go unnoticed!
Ingleside is a suburb situated on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, renowned for its laid back approach, large tracts of bushland and impressive wildlife. The region has been earmarked for large-scale development since the mid 1990’s, however little action was taken as the primary focus by developers was the Warriewood Valley Land Release which is currently in its final stage. Fast forward to 2014 and ideas of development in Ingleside began reappearing after 20 years of constant pressure from and for a growing population (Can our Earth and its resources really hold more people?). Ingleside currently has a population of 1,100 residents spread over 700 hectares of which a vast majority of the land is native bushland with an abundance of wildlife – much of which is listed as Nationally Vulnerable, Endangered and Critically Endangered!
The plans as of 2017 are to build approximately 4000 homes to house an additional 10,000 residents placing pressure upon wildlife, roads and inadequate infrastructure. Of the 700 hectares in the precinct area, approximately 200 hectares are set to remain as bushland which superficially appears to be a win for conservation, however when looked at closely, there will be a net loss of approximately 320 hectares of bushland – a huge loss to wildlife and it’s habitat. Additionally to the immediate loss of bushland, there will be an extraordinary increase in population which inevitably results in increased pollution to waterways, bushland and noise pollution. Creeks such as Cicada Glen Creek, which flows to Kuringai Chase National Park and Mullet Creek, which flows through to Warriewood Wetlands will be severely affected by pollution. An increase in human habitation will also directly lead to an increase in roaming cats and dogs into Kuringai Chase and Garigal NP further harming both Threatened and Non-threatened species thus reducing the long term viability of these animal populations. If no action is taken to halt these above issues the environment will suffer at the hands of ‘jobs and growth’.
Gumnut Naturalist staff member Jayden Walsh has completed extensive surveys throughout the Ingleside area over the past 2 years in order to discover and better protect the Threatened species that call this important bushland home. Walsh stated ”some of the more significant finds I have made in Ingleside include 2 Critically Endangered Birds – the Regent Honeyeater and Swift Parrot, both species are part of populations that are comprised of under 1000 birds. Other threatened fauna I’ve spotted includes the first nesting and breeding record of Little Eagles in Sydney ever, Black Chinned Honeyeater, Varied Sittella, Powerful Owl, Southern Brown Bandicoot, Masked Owl, Eastern Pygmy Possum, Giant Burrowing Frog and numerous sightings of Red Crowned Toadlets”, emphasising the importance of this land for conservation. “Of particular significance is the impact of future pollution in Mullet Creek upon the only known population of breeding, Vulnerable Giant Burrowing Frogs outside of a National Park in Sydney, the future impact is obvious, these frogs can’t handle large chemical and physical changes in their environment, and thus this population is highly likely to become locally extinct, as a direct result of the Ingleside Land Release, this is an unacceptable and preventable occurrence”
Summary of key issues:
- Loss of 320 Hectares of Bushland
- Destruction of Vulnerable, Endangered and Critically Endangered Animals and their habitat
- Increased predation from pet Cats and Dogs both in the precinct area and in Kuringai Chase and Garigal National Parks
- Increased noise, chemical and visual pollution
- Increase congestion on the Northern Beaches overall
Note: if you and I were to do any of the following we would receive up to 7 years in jail and/or up to a $250,000 fine.
- Destruction by developers of Endangered Angus Onion Orchid specimens which are only found in Ingleside
- Destruction of Federally and State Listed Vulnerable Giant Burrowing Frog habitat through increased sedimentation and pollution
- Destruction of State Listed Vulnerable Red Crowned Toadlet specimens and high quality habitat through construction of roads, gutters and houses.
- Destruction of Federally and State Vulnerable Australian Masked Owl, Powerful Owl and Barking Owl high quality habitat
- Destruction of State Listed Vulnerable Eastern Pymgy Possum specimens and habitat
- And many, many more highly illegal activities that are permissible due to the supposed benefits of overdevelopment!
What can you do to help?
Ultimately, the Ingleside land release will result in the irrevocable destruction of numerous Threatened Species which is not acceptable in the 21st century when we are equipped with the knowledge of their presence and the power to do something about it. It reflects poorly both upon the Authorities and Developers alike, that they are willing to sacrifice our native bushland and threatened species for the sake of profit and a growing population.
Send a submission against this overdevelopment at http://planspolicies.planning.nsw.gov.au/index.pl?action=view_job&job_id=7873 by the 28th Februarys to influence the fate of our wildlife
Please sign and share this petition to show your support against the overdevelopment of the Northern Beaches https://www.change.org/p/stop-over-development-of-northern-beaches
Have you ever felt rejuvenated and reset after going for a bush walk? Have you ever felt a calmness and inner glow after spending a night camping in untouched forest? Have you ever felt a sense of well being and awe when you stroll through at a biodiverse wildlife garden? Research is beginning to show that there is in fact a genuine reason for these feelings which have genuine benefits for the human body.
While there are obvious benefits in spending time in nature, such as clean air for the lungs, allowing your eyes to adjust to longer distances, and physically engaging your muscles, there are other more subtle but also more potent ways immersing in nature improves your health. It’s all to do with how your brain chemistry works, and in particular, how the stress hormone cortisol works.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with cortisol, it’s a hormone which is important for many normal body functions, such as sleep, inflammation and the flight or fight response. However, long term exposure to elevated levels of this hormone can cause weight gain, impaired immune system and can shorten your life. When cortisol levels are spiked in your system, your body is essentially saying “don’t do what ever you just did again”. For example, in stressful situations such as bungee jumping, your cortisol levels will spike. This is a reaction to preserve your life.
Now that we understand the basics of the hormone cortisol, we can have a look at the difference between the brain of someone who lives in the city and someone who lives in nature. Lets look at a hypothetical situation; say you have identical twins which live almost identical lifestyles (i.e. eat the same food, do the same amount of physical activity etc.), but one lives in the Sydney CBD and the other lives in the rural forested areas on a property in Dungog. Disregarding the effects that pollution would have on the twin in the city, the twin that lives in the bush surrounded by nature will be expected to live longer.
Why? The answer is due to cortisol. The body of the twin in the city has long term elevated levels of cortisol that then the twin in the bush. The reason the cortisol is so elevated in the twin in the city (once again disregarding factors such as noise pollution and alter sleeping regimes), is due to simply looking at the city. Evolution has devoured genes which give us positive neurochemicals when we are in biodiverse bushland with lots of different animals and plants, and in contrast, give us negative neurochemicals, such as cortisol, when we are not in biodiverse areas. This is so that it will force us to seek out areas of plentiful resources.
Now of course cities have plentiful resources, in fact they have more resources at our fingertips than any other place. However, you have to understand that our brains and bodies have not caught up to modern technology and cities. Evolution of humans has taken place over hundreds thousands of years and cities have only been around for a couple hundred, or a couple if you count civilisations such as Rome and Egypt. To achieve a higher level of health the every day human MUST immerse in nature regularly. This leaves us with two options to gain maximum health benefits from nature.
The two options are: Go on weekly adventures into the bush, or if you have a tight schedule and are generally too busy to make this commitment, bring biodiversity back into your living space (visit the Backyard Conservation project to learn more). Either way doing one or both of these will enable you to control cortisol levels and enable your body to stop worrying. Some experts even suggest spending a whole weekend on a camping or hiking trip in the bush as this amount of time can reset your sleeping cycles and bring you back to natural cortisol levels. Please share this post and spread the word so that we can all achieve greener cities and ultimately, better health.
If you want to use any photos in this post, please contact us. All photos are copyrighted and property of Gumnut Naturalist.
Jayden Walsh is a passionate aspiring Ecologist and Wildlife Photographer from Sydney. Having recently completed his HSC, he now spends his time searching for rare and threatened wildlife in an attempt to protect important areas of bush and increase our understanding of the ecology of elusive and threatened species. Jayden is highly experienced in fauna identification and location. He has extensive experience leading and assisting Birdwatching and Spotlighting tours to engage the local community and the younger generation to explore the world around them, as we are only willing to protect what we understand and appreciate.
Some Wildlife highlights for Jayden having included finding Critically Endangered Swift Parrots and Regent Honeyeaters, the threatened and elusive Barking Owl, Masked Owl, Powerful Owl, Greater Sooty Owl and Red-Crowned Toadlet along with the first sighting of a Common Dunnart for the Northern Beaches, first New Holland mouse for 13 years in Northern Sydney and 2 Southern Brown Bandicoots which were speculated to be recently extinct in all of NSW except for near Eden. Welcome to the team Jayden!
To view the past tour and presentation Jayden has done and to stay up to date with upcoming tours and presentation he will be involved in, click here and scroll down to Jaydens section.