Science

Documentary: Cassowary leaping high caught on film

A Southern Cassowary. Image: The Natural History Unit.
Wednesday, 30 May, 2018
Ivy Shih

By hiding in camouflaged tents for months in the dense rainforest, UNSW PhD student and film-maker Dan Hunter has captured fascinating footage of Australia’s “dino-bird” –  the elusive flightless cassowary.

Hunter’s latest documentary on the Southern Cassowaries of North-East Queensland reveals insights into the behaviour of these large birds, including their extraordinary feeding behaviour of leaping to great heights to pluck fruit from trees.

Called Dino Bird, the film is currently being broadcast on international wildlife channel Nat Geo Wild, after being selected by National Geographic as part of its 2018 Year of the Bird Campaign dedicated to highlighting bird conservation efforts around the globe.

To make the documentary, Hunter and his colleague Ed Saltau spent nine months filming in a patch of the Daintree rainforest called Cooper Creek Wilderness – part of a world-heritage listed area considered to be the oldest surviving rainforest in the world.

“Cassowaries have to be, hands down, the hardest animal Ed and I have ever filmed before,” says Hunter, who is a PhD candidate in the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“They’re completely silent in the densest rainforest you can imagine. For birds that weigh so much, they can literally be 15 metres in front of you and you won’t even see or hear them.”

Adult Southern Cassowaries can grow to up to 2 metres tall and weigh up to 76 kilograms, and the documentary features a large female called Bertha who is thought to be about 60 years old.

Despite being Australia’s heaviest birds, cassowaries’ powerful legs can propel them upwards to grab the fruit easily.

To capture the cassowaries on camera, Hunter and Saltau filmed from ‘hides’ - specialised tents that allow the filmmaker to blend in with the surrounding environment.

Although cassowaries are extremely territorial, they do not follow a routine pattern of behaviour. Hunter says they had to get into the minds of the cassowaries, scouting locations where the birds were most likely to be most active, such as water crossings or near fruiting trees.

Read the full story, see a video a cassowary leaping, and see more photographs here.