Cassowaries, Casuarius, are very large flightless birds native to the tropical forests of New Guinea and northeastern Australia. Cassowaries are part of the ratite group of birds that include the emu, rhea, ostrich, moa, and kiwi. There are three species of Cassowary recognized today: The Southern Cassowary of Australia and New Guinea; the Dwarf Cassowary of New Guinea and New Britain; and the Northern Cassowary of New Guinea. Some nearby islands have small populations of these birds, but it is not known if they occur there naturally or by trade in young birds.

The Southern Cassowary is the second-largest bird in Australia and the third-largest remaining bird in the world. Adult Southern Cassowaries are 5 to 6 feet tall, although some may reach 6 feet 8 inches, and weigh about 60 kilograms (130 pounds). They have a bony helmet on the head that is used to batter through underbrush, making them the only armored bird in the world. Females are bigger and more brightly colored.

A cassowary’s three-toed feet have sharp claws. The dagger-like middle claw is 5 inches long. This claw is particularly dangerous since the
Cassowary can use it to kill an enemy, disemboweling it with a single kick. They can run up to 32 mph through the dense forest, pushing aside small trees and brush with their bony casques (helmets). They can jump up to 5 feet and they are good swimmers.

Females lay three to eight large, pale green-blue eggs in each clutch. These eggs measure about 3½ by 5½ inches. The male incubates the eggs for two months, then cares for the brown-striped chicks for nine months. Fallen fruit and fruit on low branches is the mainstay of the cassowary diet. They also eat fungi, snails, insects, frogs, snakes and other small animals.

The 2004 edition of the Guinness World Records lists the cassowary as the world’s most dangerous bird. Normally cassowaries are very shy but when disturbed can lash out dangerously with their powerful legs. During World War II American and Australian troops stationed in New Guinea were warned to steer clear of the birds. They are capable of inflicting fatal injuries to an adult human. Usually, attacks are the result of provocation. Wounded or cornered birds are particularly dangerous. Cassowaries, deftly using their surroundings to conceal their movements, have been known to out-flank organized groups of human predators. Cassowaries are considered to be one of the most dangerous animals to keep in zoos, based on the frequency and severity of injuries incurred by zookeepers.