Monday, April 6, 2009

Cassowary family torn apart by dog attack, by Liz Gallie

Foreword by Russ

Recently I have been fortunate enough to illustrate my blog with photos provided by Mission Beach artist and cassowary campaigner Liz Gallie. Liz and other members of C4 (Community for Coastal and Cassowary Conservation) work tirelessly not only to protect our regions remaining endangered cassowaries but also to halt the destruction of this birds rapidly disappearing habitat. This very moment urban developments and resorts continue encroaching onto diminishing cassowary habitat. Liz has generously allowed me to share one of her recent articles with you and I’m sure some of you will recognize the birds from my recent posts.

Through emails and amazing photographs I have become familiar with the cassowary family Liz has described within her article. I am upset to hear the news and sadly the events Liz describes are not uncommon in this part of Australia. Our own home is only just seeing the return of a cassowary after a years work to destroy a pack of at least 8 wild dogs.

It would be inexcusable for our Federal Environment Minister Mr Peter Garrett AM MP and his advisors to ignore the warnings provided by such precedents with regards to Ella bay and its cassowary population. We are looking at a listed endangered species that has an extremely low population. Any environmental scientist worth their salt can tell you scarcity is a precursor to extinction.

Lets all hope our Australian government has learnt something since 1936 when they declared the Tasmanian Tiger Thylacinus cynocephalus a protected species ... two months before the last known individual died.

Extinction is forever.

Cassowary family torn apart by dog attack
article by Liz Gallie

It has been a privilege to observe and photograph a male cassowary and his two chicks which, for the past few months, have been ranging daily through my yard and the nearby creek.
Dad and chicks in happier times

They are the same family that featured in last week’s Tully Times after moving into a restored rainforest reserve at Bingil Bay.Their presence is very exciting as in the 23 years I have lived at my present address, there have been many cassowaries of varying ages move through but I have never seen an adult with chicks. It has been a photographer’s dream.

But something terrible happened last Saturday morning.

The family walked through as usual but a while later the adult rushed back alone. I was very puzzled and half an hour later, I heard the mournful whistle that cassowary chicks make when separated from their parent. Why had their dad deserted them?

I then got a seemingly unrelated phone call about a cassowary being attacked by a large dog just down the road. It seemed like everything was going wrong.

Luckily, I tracked down the dog’s owner who told me that he was at the Bingil Bay picnic area when his dog spotted an adult cassowary and two chicks on the edge of the bush across the road eating native figs.

Apparently the dog rushed over and chased the adult around the amenities block several times until the bird ran down to the beach and into the ocean in a desperate attempt to escape. The dog followed it. The sea was very rough with Cyclone Hamish offshore and both the dog and the cassowary were badly dumped by the surf.

The dog was restrained and the cassowary sat on the beach exhausted and gasping. The bird then tried to go back into the sea but was discouraged by the people on the beach. It then ran back toward the road and ultimately the bush.

The chicks must have been hiding in the bush watching their dad being attacked.

Then it dawned on me that the adult I had seen earlier rushing through my place was the one that had just been attacked by the dog. And the chicks were now at my place desperately crying out for him, alone and scared.

But about three hours later, a fantastic thing happened.

I saw one of the chicks get up excitedly like it had heard something. Then the dad came up from the creek and it was beautiful to see them reunited as a family.

This is a graphic first hand account of what happened to the cassowaries I know, in the last week. It is just one of the threats this endangered species increasingly has to cope with as we move into its habitat.

It is unknown what injuries the adult sustained apart from the stress it endured and whether it will survive the attack. It is almost a week since the incident and so far I have not seen them, despite seeing them daily before the attack.

Tully vet, Graham Lauridsen, said there are many more dog attacks on cassowaries than reported and the death rate could almost equal that of traffic strike, the number one official threat to cassowaries after habitat loss and fragmentation.
Off leash dogs allowed to roam near beach used by cassowaries.

There are 2000 registered dogs at Mission Beach but the actual number is likely to be much higher. The number of off-leash dogs around suggests that current laws could be better enforced.

I am sure everyone would like to be in a place where there is less regulation governing how we live, but as our population expands and our environment becomes more compromised, unfortunately more responsibility needs to be taken to protect the unique natural values of our area.

Environmentally sensitive areas such as Mission Beach need to have good regulations introduced and enforced to ensure threats of this kind to our native wildlife are avoided.

There are some places where it is inappropriate to have dogs, or at the very least, of a certain size and breed.

This attack could have been avoided by a dog being kept on a lead.

Liz Gallie

A bit of a correction to this article that Liz recently relayed to me

The figures of dogs were taken from the CSIRO/Terrain posters PDF presented at the first Mission Beach community meeting to discuss and trigger the Mission Beach Habitat Network Habitat Plan (MBHNAP)

It seems in fact that there is around 400 registered dogs in the area.

Just keeping the record straight.

Cheers Russ

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