Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Road Death Rate of Cassowaries at Mission Beach Unsustainable says C4 spokesperson Liz Gallie

I promised an update on the latest Mission Beach cassowary death when the press release arrived so here it is.

10 May 2010 1 x adult female cassowary killed on Mission Beach Roads
20 Dec 2009 1 x adult female cassowary killed on Mission Beach Roads
16 Nov 2009 1 x adult female cassowary killed on Mission Beach Roads

Is anyone starting to see a pattern here?

It gets worse… all these deaths occurred along a 1 kilometre stretch of road.

Liz Gallie was kind enough to send a press release on to me to share on the blog.

Although I really don’t like these stories one little bit they still need to be told and not just swept under the carpet.

Well without any further ado here’s the press release:

Media release

13 May 2010

Tragic Loss pushes cassowary at Mission Beach closer to extinction

Another adult cassowary was killed by car strike late on Monday afternoon near Mission Beach village. The death was reported to the local Police the next morning. The body was retrieved from the side of the road at around 5pm that day and taken to the Garners Beach Rehabilitation Centre for disposal.

It was confirmed by the Tully vet who attended the scene the dead bird was a large mature female and it had sustained massive injuries.

The bird was crossing the road towards dusk when it was struck by one vehicle and ricocheted into the path of another. The driver of the second car stopped but it was too dark to see the bird.

The accident caused substantial damage to the vehicle.

“The road death rate of cassowaries at Mission Beach is unsustainable” said spokesperson for C4, Liz Gallie. “It takes four years for a cassowary to reach maturity and then it can live up to 50 years of age. The death of three adult female cassowaries in the same area within six months is a tragic blow for the important population of the endangered cassowary at Mission Beach”.

All three deaths occurred within a kilometer of each other and on a section of road that is known as a frequent crossing area.

As a result of two of the deaths last year the Main Roads Department held a workshop at Mission Beach and a plan was developed to trial a cassowary crossing on a small section of road. There are many other places in the high cassowary density area of Mission Beach that need traffic management

C4 met with several State Ministers at the Community Cabinet held at Innisfail last February highlighting the urgency for an integrated cassowary traffic and response strategy.

When a cassowary is killed on the road we need to obtain specific information e g;

* Was it on a straight stretch of road or a bend?
* What was the speed limit?
* What was the condition of the adjacent road verge e g long grass, native vegetation, road cutting?
* Was the driver a local or tourist? Etc etc.

It appears that visibility played a major role in the latest casualty. We know that;
  • It was a large female cassowary
  • It was hit by two cars while on the road at dusk
  • It was at a known frequent crossing area
  • It was in an 80kph zone
  • One driver stopped and reported the incident
  • One of the drivers was local
  • It was on a straight section of road with one side of the road a grass verge and the other with vegetation close to the road.
Information is being collected by various people about cassowary movement as well as road crossings. All this information should be shared on compatible data bases and we need to make sure that when we collect information we understand why a situation has occurred so that our response is effective.

The recent satellite tagging project being carried out by DERM and the University of Queensland, funded by the State Government, in this instance, would not effectively add any more information than is already being collected through regular reported sightings and the placement of ‘recent crossing’ signs. “In fact the newly established online sightings database without the inclusion of extra important data will hinder progress by confusing responses and fragmenting current information gathering” Ms Gallie said.

Location of latest cassowary road kill at known crossing area.

For more information please contact;

Liz Gallie
Media Coordinator
Community for Coastal and Cassowary Conservation Inc (C4)
0414 402315
(07) 4068 7315

The Cairns Post also presented a story about this latest cassowary death on15 May 2010 in which they draw attention to the fact that the state government is trialling a crossing for cassowaries at Mission Beach but not in the area where these endangered birds are being killed.

I would like to thank the Cairns Post for publishing this story.

What are my thoughts?

I believe that these sorts of losses are far from tolerable especially when one takes into account that these are only the reported deaths. Just how often are these magnificent birds struck by a vehicle only to wander off and die alone, uncounted and unremembered in the scrub?

The speed limit needs to be reduced in these areas with speed limiting road structures rather than simply putting up signs and crossing our fingers for luck.

At Mission Beach we are gambling with the future of a precious keystone species.

As intelligent and rational people we should know better than to risk something that we simply cannot afford to lose.

Cheers Russ


  1. Something needs to be done, and done FAST! All I hope is (with regards to this latest fatality), is that it died instantly, and not a slow painful death.

    There has to be a solution... I just hope the 'pen-pushers' actually do something about it instead of just talking about it... as having meeting after meeting in their shirts and ties, while more cassowaries are crossing the road to their death, is just a waste of precious time.

    Thanks for this story Russell. I find these posts hard to read... I really do. But, it is necessary to get the message across to anyone who cares to take notice...

  2. Thanks Amanda
    I Just saw a map of all the latest recorded cassowary deaths at Mission Beach and its pretty shocking. I will try to post it in the next few days.
    Had a quick walk at Ella Bay today and saw tracks of an adult male cassowary and juvenile on the beach. They had swum/waded across Barra Creek and where the adult climbed the bank you could see a patch of footprints where he had shaken himself dry. Took photos and will post them.

    Walking back to my car I heard a vehicle flying along the road so thought I would film it as it came around the corner as I though it would be some young bloke rally driving. Believe it or not it was one of the staff from Ella Bay Pty Ltd in a dark land cruiser wagon so I politely reminded him of the speed limit (40) as its cassowary habitat and could he use head head and slow it down a little please. He was an old bloke so I was a little surprised. Very disappointing as these blokes of all people should realise how many cassowaries use this road and I would have expected better from them.
    Anyway apart from that it was a great walk mate!

  3. I would like to comment on Miss Gaille statement on the unsustainability of Cassowary traffic strikes. Whilst Cassowary traffic strikes are a dreadful occurence, to say they are unsustainable would require knowledge of the natural death rate within the population, and how much traffic strikes increases the rate of mortality. It would also require knowledge on the current rate of recruitment into the local population and what population size the Mission beach area can sustain. All of which is presently unknown.

    It could equally be the case that the present habitat at Mission beach is saturated with cassowaries and road strikes do not increase the natural rate of mortality, opening up territory to young birds which would otherwise die due to competative exclusion.

    Don't get me wrong. I live at Mission beach and I love to see the birds going through my garden. I fully agree that we should introduce road calming measures to reduce traffic strikes out of a general duty of care and husbandry for wildlife. But for a local community group such as C4 to make such unsubstantiated claims is misleading and could be considered scare mongering.

  4. It is true that there is not enough known about cassowaries to say categorically that 3 adult female deaths from car strike in six months is unsustainable in a survival of the species at Mission Beach sense, but if those statistics continue, in four years there would be 24 adult birds killed.

    Given that they take four years to mature and there may only be double that number in the area you don't need a science degree to do the mathematics.

    There was only one cassowary left on Mt Whitfield for many years, before it got killed by dogs as did most of the rest of the population in an area that was known by the indigenous people as the home of cassowaries. How do we know when the numbers are reduced to a point of no return?

    Because cassowaries live so long and we still don't know how many there are or what size a population is needed for genetic viability, for the sake of the environment, community and economy the precautionary principle surely must be applied.

    It is unlikely (?) that we will see another three adult female cassowaries killed on the roads within six months but the increase in traffic from the amount of development that has been approved will have the anticipated consequence of increased road mortality.

    C4 is an organisation run by volunteers that seeks to protect World Heritage values, is membership based and does the best it can with the resources available. C4 welcomes input from the community and general meetings are open for anyone to attend.

    Morally, ethically, psychologically and from a sense of place, the death of cassowaries from dog attack, vehicle strike and removal of their essential habitat is unsustainable.

    Anonymous, as a Mission Beach resident who obviously cares about the fate of the birds and has valuable knowledge to contribute, please make yourself known. The more people who stand up and are counted at this crucial time for Mission Beach, the better our future will be.

  5. Thank you for your comments anonymous. I was going to pen a decent response but at the end of the day one only has to look at the Australian government's definition of ENDANGERED to get some clarity regarding the issue of cassowary deaths caused by our species.

    If you check out
    you will find my thoughts on the matter.

    As for "scare mongering" I seem to recall that's what they said about that crazy girl who was getting some air on the deck of the Titanic...oh and those damn fool idiot nut jobs that said a bounty on Thylacines (Tasmanian tigers)was going to push the species to extinction. What would they know!


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