Northern Cassowary Casuarius unappendiculatus


Justification of Red List Category
Population size estimates suggest that the population size is actually larger than previously estimated, and hunting is not thought to be impacting the species as severely as previously thought. This, combined with a large range means that the species is no longer considered to approach the threshold for Vulnerable under any criterion, and hence is now listed as Least Concern.

Population justification

The overall mean density estimate in the one quantitative survey was 7.4 (5.7-9.6) per km² (Pangau-Adam et al. 2015). This is likely optimal habitat and given that it is likely to occupy only a proportion of its Extent of Occurrence, the population is precautionarily estimated to number 10,000-19,999 mature individuals (G. Dutson in litt. 2016).

Trend justification
It is suspected to be declining at a moderately rapid rate, given its long generation time and the rates of habitat loss and degradation. Across north coastal Papua New Guinea (West Sepik, East Sepik and Madang provinces), forest loss was 1.4% and plus 3.5% forest degradation between 2002 and 2014 (Bryan and Shearman 2015); rates for Indonesian New Guinea are not quantified but appear to be similar. Given its likely persistence at lower population densities in logged forest, and a slowly increasing rate of hunting, its population is precautionarily suspected to be declining at 1-10% over three generations (30 years).

Distribution and population

Casuarius unappendiculatus is restricted to the northern lowlands of New Guinea (Papua, formerly Irian Jaya, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea). Its distribution on the Vogelkop is poorly known, but it is known from Yapen, Batanta and Salawati islands, and it extends east across the Ramu lowlands (Beehler and Pratt 2016). There are few records as this region is seldom visited.


It inhabits lowland forest, including swamp-forest, up to 700 m locally (Coates 1985. Beehler et al. 1986, K. Sam in litt. 2016). Its ecology is poorly known but presumed to be similar to that of C. casuarius and is reported to be feed mainly on fruit, but also invertebrates and small vertebrates (K. Sam in litt. 2016). It is likely to have a critical ecological role as a seed disperser in New Guinea.


Cassowaries are heavily hunted close to populated areas and this species may be particularly vulnerable as it appears to have a preference for river floodplains which are more highly populated (B. Whitney in litt. 2000). As well as constituting a major food source for subsistence communities, it has a major cultural importance, including use as gifts in pay-back ceremonies and use of the feathers and bones as decoration and bones as tools (Coates 1985, Beehler et al. 1986, K. D. Bishop in litt. 1999). Hunting and trade is not sustainable in some areas and has led to its extirpation from some sites, as the species is traded at a sub-national level to supply markets in more densely populated areas (Johnson et al. 2004). Cassowaries survive to varying degrees in hunted areas, dependent on the local culture and the availability of weapons and alternative meat-sources (Beehler 1985, K. D. Bishop in litt. 1999). Cassowary meat was frequently traded in local markets (Pangau-Adam and Noske 2009). Although logging roads open up previously inaccessible forests to hunting, most are in sparsely-populated areas. Habitat loss is currently the major threat. In the one quantitative study, there were 14 (9–21) birds per km² in primary forest, 10 (5-17) in >30 year old secondary forest, 4 per km² (2-8.5) in recently logged (< 3 years) forest and 1.4 (0.4–5.6) birds per km² in forest gardens (Pangau-Adam et al. 2015). 

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
A survey of populations in fragmented landscape in Papua New Guinea has been conducted in Madang lowlands in logged and unlogged areas and in Wanang Conservation Area (Sam et al. 2014).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey distribution of this species and C. casuarius in Vogelkop using camera-trapping methods. Gather demographic data on the species to inform sustainable harvest calculations. Research and quantify the effects of hunting, and use this information to inform community-based wildlife management providing local communities with sustainable catch quotas. Research and quantify the effects of logging. Survey extensive areas through discussion with local hunters. Develop a repeatable monitoring technique in protected areas. Monitor populations in protected areas. Campaign for non-hunting protected areas in Papua New Guinea such as April-Saulemei or Ramu lowlands. Use this species as a figurehead for establishing ecotourism-funded protected areas. Liaise with Australian research and action on C. casuarius.


150 cm. Large, black ratite. Adult all black except bright blue and red neck, with small blue or red single wattle. Chicks are striped then become plain brown, paler than other forest gamebirds. Similar spp. The upland Dwarf Cassowary C. bennetti is smaller, with a low casque and no wattle. The parapatric Southern Cassowary C. casuarius has a higher casque and double wattle. Voice Booming and grunting similar to other cassowaries. Hints Rarely seen, its presence is usually indicated by its large piles of droppings containing fruit stones, or by its large, three-toed footprints.


Text account compilers
Westrip, J., Dutson, G., Benstead, P., Wheatley, H., Derhé, M., Stattersfield, A., O'Brien, A.

Whitney, B., Sam, K., Beehler, B., Bishop, K.D., Dutson, G., Burrows, I.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Casuarius unappendiculatus. Downloaded from on 18/08/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 18/08/2022.