My parents were surprised when I became a zookeeper. As I recall, they really should have seen it coming.
The zoo was my favorite place in the world growing up, and I pestered them so much to make the one hour drive to the Gladys Porter Zoo that they had to tell one of those white lies parents love so much–the zoo is only open for a few months during the summer.
If that wasn’t enough to tip them off, I also climbed onto the roof every Christmas to make sure Santa’s reindeer had carrots and plenty of water. I had decided it wasn’t fair that everyone gave Santa cookies and milk, but the reindeer, doing so much work, were ignored.
What does any of this have to do with ‘the most dangerous bird in the world’? Well, I didn’t like birds growing up. I was really interested in reptiles and primates, but I really did not understand the appeal of birds.
However, the cassowary was a very different matter. I distinctly remember the resident cassowary at my childhood zoo. She sat with her legs bent forward, and those wicked-looking feet with scary dagger-like nails relaxed in front of her. She was always right by the fence, and I had such a close view.
The bird just looked mean and prehistoric, unlike any other animal in the zoo. I remember my mother saying, “Come away from there, Megan. I don’t like the way that bird is looking at you.”
Years later, I had made birds my professional focus and fell in love with their variety, intelligence and beauty. I also never forgot that cassowary I met as a kid. She definitely made a lasting impression.
I always hoped to work with a cassowary at some point, and when Darwin, our Double-wattled Cassowary, arrived at the Houston Zoo, I was immediately in awe of this huge, flightless and very dangerous bird.
Darwin stands approximately five feet tall, weighs in at 110 pounds, and like all cassowaries, has a powerful kick, rendered even more severe by a viciously long nail on each of his inner-most toes.
It’s those powerful kicks and sharp long nails that make the cassowary the most dangerous bird in the world. At the zoo, Darwin is a protected-contact animal, much like our lions or tigers, and we never go into his enclosure with him.
So why does a bird, so obviously well-equipped to take care of itself, need our help? As large and intimidating as a cassowary may be, they are simply no match for a car.
Habitat destruction and fragmentation have devestated the cassowary population, and after several years of being the proud home to a Double-wattled Cassowary, we at the Houston Zoo decided it was time to help Darwin’s wild counterparts.
On Saturday, July 23rd, please join us at the Houston Zoo Cassowary Exhibit from 9 AM to 4 PM for a day of all things Cassowary!
There will be games!
There will be prizes!
There will be FUN!
Along the way, you’ll learn a thing or two about cassowaries, birds, habitat conservation, AND you’ll help the Houston Zoo raise funds to buy back and restore critical cassowary habitat, which means less of this:
and more of this:
More Posts Like This!
- Why Did the Cassowary Cross the Road? Cassowary Spotlight on the Species: July 23rd! Unfortunately, there’s no punch line and the situation is no laughing matter. Habitat loss and fragmentation have left the Australian...
- Can You Jump as High as A Cassowary? Find Out at Our Spotlight on the Species! Cassowaries can clear a six foot jump. Can YOU jump as high as a cassowary? What about a rat, or...
- Bird vs Man: Keepers Take on the Champ in This Spectacular Contest! Did you know our cassowary Darwin can eat tremendously large pieces of fruit, in one simple gulp? In the wild,...
- 12 Days of Grub: Day 1 – Darwin the Cassowary Sing along with us! On the First Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed… Darwin the Cassowary! ...
- Spotlight on Species: Vultures! Did you know the Houston Zoo has a pair of Cinereous vultures? They are located right across from the furthest...