Southern Cassowary Casuarius casuarius


Justification of Red List Category
Population size estimates suggest that the population size is actually larger than previously estimated, and threats are not having the impact on global populations as previously feared. 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

Westcott et al. (2014) estimated the Australian population to number 4,000 individuals, with densities varying from 0.04-1.8 birds per km² in rainforest. Population densities are much higher in most of its New Guinea range away from the limited centres of population. In the one quantitative study of cassowary populations in New Guinea, there were 14 (9–21) of the allopatric Northern Cassowary C. unappendiculatus 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). C. casuarius is widespread across its New Guinea range which is about 15 times the size of its range Australia. The total population is precautionarily placed in the band 20,000-49,000 mature individuals but is likely to be higher (G. Dutson in litt. 2016).

Trend justification
The species suffered a rapid decline in Australia until its habitat was largely protected by World Heritage listing in 1988 (Garnett et al. 2011). Numbers in Australia have been almost stable since 1988 (Garnett et al. 2011, Westcott et al. 2014). In New Guinea, it is widespread but less common in logged forest (I. Woxvold pers. comm. per G. Dutson in litt. 2016). In the one quantitative study of the allopatric Northern Cassowary C. unappendiculatus, there were 14 (9–21) per km² in primary forest, 10 (5-17) in >30 year old secondary forest and 4 per km² (2-8.5) in recently logged (< 3 years) forest (Pangau-Adam et al. 2015). In the species's core range of Gulf and Western Provinces, Papua New Guinea, 4% of rainforest was logged and 1.4% deforested between 2002-2014 (Bryan and Shearman 2015), suggesting a decline of 1-10% over three generations (37 years). There are low human populations in most logged areas and therefore logging roads facilitate only insignificant increases in hunting rates, at least in Papua New Guinea (I. Woxvold pers. comm. per G. Dutson in litt. 2016). A recent surge in hunting to sell as traditional bride price gifts in Papua New Guinea is a concern but probably only affects a small number of individuals. In Australia, cassowary mortality due to traffic strike was significantly increased after cyclonic events, however, this did not result in significant declines in the population when examined over a 20 year period (Dwyer et al. 2016).

Distribution and population

Casuarius casuarius is found in New Guinea (Papua, formerly Irian Jaya, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea), including the islands of Seram (where probably introduced) and Aru, and north-eastern Australia. It occurs throughout the lowlands of New Guinea except for the northern watershed from the Vogelkop to the Huon Peninsula (Coates 1985, Beehler et al. 1986). In Papua and adjacent islands, its status is unclear, but it may be more common than in Papua New Guinea. In Australia, there are three subpopulations in Queensland. The southern and largest population ranges from the Paluma Range north of Townsville to Mt Amos. Two populations occur further north on Cape York Peninsula: one in the McIlwraith Range and north to the Pascoe River, the other in the Jardine River National Park and Heathland Resources Reserve (Kofron and Chapman 2006).


It is a solitary and sedentary inhabitant of rainforest, occasionally using adjacent savanna forests, mangroves and fruit plantations. Its diet largely comprises fallen fruit, although it is fairly undiscriminating (Garnett et al. 2011). It mostly occurs below 300 m in New Guinea (Beehler and Pratt 2016), but has been recorded up to 1,400 m in Australia.


In Australia, it was historically threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation. In Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, the species is heavily hunted, captured and traded close to populated areas, being of high cultural importance, and constituting a major food source for subsistence communities (Coates 1985, Beehler et al. 1986, K. D. Bishop in litt. 1999). This hunting and trade is not sustainable in many 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). A recent surge in hunting to sell as traditional bride price gifts in Papua New Guinea is a concern but probably only affects a small number of individuals (I. Woxvold pers. comm. per G. Dutson in litt. 2016). Increasing human populations exacerbate hunting pressure on the species. However, although birds appear to be more common in unpopulated areas (Beehler et al. 1994, Burrows 1995), they can apparently survive in some hunted areas (Beehler 1985), probably those where traditional hunting techniques predominate. Industrial logging is threatening large areas of lowland rainforest in New Guinea, and the species is less common in foothill and logged forest (I. Woxvold pers. comm. per G. Dutson in litt. 2016). There are low human populations in most logged areas and hence logging roads facilitate insignificant increases in hunting rates. Significant areas of lowland forest are designated for potential clearance for oil palm plantations (e.g. Bryan and Shearman 2015). Cyclones are considered a transient and localised threat to the species in Australia. Mortality due to traffic strike was significantly increased after cyclonic events and remains a threat to the species in Australia (P. Gergory in litt. 2017), however, this did not result in significant declines in the population when examined over a 20 year period (Dwyer et al. 2016). Increased susceptibility to disease (e.g. tuberculosis) following such events may pose a threat to the species (Cooper 2008), although this is yet to be confirmed.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
A recovery plan for the species in Australia was published in 2002 (Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service 2002) and updated in 2007 (Latch 2007). In Australia, programmes have been aimed at community education, localised habitat management, protection and revegetation, management plans for populations and high-risk individuals, surveys, survey and translocation methods, and habitat use. Temporary feeding stations have been installed in damaged areas following cyclones in Australia. Most remaining habitat is within protected areas (Westcott 1999, D. Westcott in litt. 1999, Garnett et al. 2011)

Conservation Actions Proposed
Determine population densities, sizes and demographic trends throughout its range. In Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, quantify the effects of hunting and logging. Promote community-based hunting restrictions. In Australia: Revise monitoring techniques and monitor key sites. Research population dynamics. Research  impact of cyclones, dogs, traffic, disease and fragmentation on persistence of small populations and on survivorship and demography. Prevent habitat clearance. Minimise cassowary road deaths and dog attacks, and assess impact of pigs. Undertake dog and pig control areas of in dense populations (Garnett et al. 2011). Investigate the feasibility and merits and, if appropriate, implement a translocation plan as part of rescue, rehabilitation and release. Identify areas and corridors to protect, restore, manage, develop and implement Cassowary Conservation Local Area Plans as part of local planning.


180 cm. Very large, black ratite. Adult black with bright blue neck. Red on lower nape. Red double wattle hanging from foreneck. Similar spp. Larger than Dwarf Cassowary C. bennetti and adult has high casque and double red wattle. Voice Booming display call and various rumblings and hissings, usually given when disturbed. Chicks make frequent, high pitched and frequency modulated whistles as contact calls to male. Hints Generally elusive in dense forest, it is most easily seen in Australia alongside certain roads and lodges.


Text account compilers
McClellan, R., Derhé, M., Dutson, G., Stattersfield, A., Wheatley, H., Westrip, J., Garnett, S.

Woxvold, I., Dutson, G., Westcott, D., Garnett, S., Gregory, P., Bishop, K.D.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Casuarius casuarius. Downloaded from on 20/10/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 20/10/2021.