Are the cassowaries getting enough to eat?

To: "'Alan Gillanders'" <>, <>
Subject: Are the cassowaries getting enough to eat?
From: "Andrew Thelander" <>
Date: Wed, 16 Mar 2011 10:06:39 +1000
Dear Alan

Thank you and Graham Harrington for this valuable information. I think it
underlines the seriousness of the situation up there and how badly funding
is needed. I had a look at BANQ's website
<>  but couldn't find any details about the
monitoring project or how to donate to it. Any advice?

It has been suggested that loss of genetic variability and in-breeding are a
threat to the Mission Beach cassowaries in their largely isolated and
fragmented habitat. I imagine that the Yasi fatalities will only compound
this negative potential. But, as Graham says, there are so many unknowns.

I hate talking like this but the cassowary has very significant economic
value to the Wet Tropics as suggested by the brand name "Cassowary Coast".
The half a million dollars needed for the feeding program is entirely
warranted in my view as a taxpayer. Indeed, I continue to hold the view that
conservation and research funding in my home state is not adequate overall
and I don't apologise for that view.

I hope that the results of the monitoring project will eventually be made
public and that the lessons learned make their way into DERM's
policy/procedure documents in readiness for the next such event. DERM also
have a very important role to play in dealing with the public in the settled
areas of Mission Beach as people watch birds lose condition and succumb. I
believe that a wildlife care group is getting distressed phone calls and I
expect these are some of the folk phoning talkback radio and complaining.
Maybe DERM need to be more forthcoming with details of what is happening and
what can and can't be achieved so that the public have some idea of the
bigger picture. But I'll leave that to the experts.





From: Alan Gillanders  
Sent: Tuesday, 15 March 2011 8:11 PM
To: Andrew Thelander; 
Subject: Are the cassowaries getting enough to eat?


I threw this to Graham Harrington (ex BA president, current BANQ committee
member and semi retired scientist) to respond and here are his comments.

"Andrew Thelanders queries about the feeding of cassowaries at Mission beach
are timely and valid but the problem is that no one has the data to provide
answers.  Realising that DERM are flying blind Birds Australia North
Queensland (BANQ) has donated $10,000 towards MONITORING the effects of the
feeding on the population, the identity of each bird using the feeding
stations, how long the birds continue to use them and how far the birds
move.  This will be undertaken both where the birds are being fed and where
they are not. Other data on the amount of food consumed will be collected.
This will utilise both DNA fingerprinting and automatic cameras.  BANQ need
another $20,000 for this project and will welcome any donations however

"The response by DERM has been massive and prompt.  It is a huge
undertaking.  It will also cost in excess of half a million dollars.
Criticism is unwarranted.  Of course not all the birds will be reached by
the feeding program.  There is likely to be competition between birds at the
stations.  It is probable that no young birds will survive the effects of
the cyclone - this is normal when a population of animals is stressed.  The
weakest and young die first. Please give DERM the respect they deserve and
do not peddle ridiculous rumours (I note that Andrew specifically avoided
doing so).

"The cyclone is a natural phenomenon and under normal circumstances most
birds would have probably starved to death although some would have moved
out of the area.  What is not natural is the fragmented forest habitat,
which inhibits movement and the concentration of cassowaries near the
settlement of Mission Beach because they are fed.  The forested area in the
hinterland of Mission Beach is somewhat isolated by farm land and this means
the movement of birds in and out is inhibited (although not completely).  "

From: "Andrew Thelander" <>
Sent: Monday, March 14, 2011 3:13 PM
To: <>
Subject: Are the cassowaries getting enough to eat?

> Hi all
> I have just had a look at the Dept of Environment and Resource
> Management's
> (DERM) website and it says: "By 9 March 2011, 93 feeding stations had been
> established from the Cardwell Range north to Flying Fish Point and a total
> of 3200 kg of fruit had been dropped by helicopter and placed at feeding
> stations."  Of course, Cyclone Yasi hit on 2 and 3 February 2011, so these
> statistics cover the first 5 weeks of DERM's response to the cyclone.
> 3200 kg doesn't sound very much to me, especially if it was partly dropped
> by helicopter and the birds had to compete with pigs and other animals for
> it. The Department's Cassowary Recovery Plan cites pigs as a likely food
> competitor to cassowaries and I believe the feeding stations are designed
> to
> be accessible by cassowaries but not pigs. The Plan also refers to Moore &
> Moore's 2001 estimate of less than 1500 cassowaries left in the Wet
> Tropics
> region. DERM's website says that male cassowaries can weigh up to 55 kg
> and
> females up to 76 kg. They are big birds! Wildlife Australia's website
> reports that they consume on average 2.9 kg of fruit per day in captivity.
> In the wild, of course, they don't eat fruit exclusively but also fungi
> and
> meat.
> I am wondering how many birds are using the 93 feeding stations and how
> much
> fruit is being placed in them daily.  If we are talking about 200 birds (I
> am plucking this figure out of the air) and each got 2 kg, this amounts to
> 400 kg of fruit per day or 4.3 kg per feeding station per day. The 3200 kg
> of fruit put out in the first 5 weeks - if it had all been put in 93
> feeding
> stations (which it wasn't)  beginning 7 days after Yasi (during which time
> the birds had access to fallen fruit) - amounts to 1.2 kg per feeding
> station per day.  This is why the DERM figure doesn't sound very much to
> me
> and I would welcome correction and reassurance.
> I am raising this question as disturbing stories are coming out of the
> Mission Beach area of cassowaries in trouble, particularly young birds
> seemingly rejected by their fathers and having to compete with adults at
> feeding stations. One young bird with a damaged hip was recently taken
> into
> captivity - it may well have been kicked by an adult. Today on Radio 4CA
> in
> Cairns, questions were raised about the efficacy of DERM's response to the
> Yasi cassowary crisis including some surprising claims which I will not
> repeat here.
> As I understand it, DERM plans to continue the feeding station program for
> at least 12 months until the rainforest fruiting recovers. It may take
> longer. This is no small task and requires good logistical organization
> e.g.
> sourcing, collecting and transporting of fruit, cutting it up where
> required
> and delivery to the 93 or more feeding stations. I only hope that DERM is
> properly resourcing and directing its staff in a realistic manner so that
> optimum results are achieved.
> I encourage everyone to donate to one of the charities collecting money
> for
> cassowary feeding. At this point in time, it seems that the Qld
> government's
> report card will have to read "can do better."
> Cheers
> Andrew Thelander
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