Mission Beach Wet Tropics – The Plight of the Cassowary

We begin with a beautiful rainforest which I have had the good fortune and privilege to explore during a university break whilst living and studying in Australia.  I decided early on in 2012 to take a bit of a trip further down South and explore the world outside of Cairns.  My first stop was at Mission beach, and although I had been warned that the area was still recovering from the devastating cyclone Yasi (February, 2011); the place still managed to be mystically beautiful (regardless of the fact it was being a bit English, weather-wise I mean!).  Big, beautiful trees holding fruit for the cassowary’s, winding forest pathways and mangrove trees with roots sunk deep in the sand.

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I enjoyed it.

The Cassowary

Cassowaries can weigh in up to 80kgs and can grow up to two metres tall.  The way they pad through the trees and the sand with their clawed paws is reminiscent of dinosaurs in a prehistoric age – a close relative.

The conservation of the Cassowary at Mission beach is largely a community effort.  The conservation group is officially known as the ‘Consultative Committee for Cassowary Conservation’ or C4 for short.  It is a consortium of local community groups, local councils, government departments and other agencies, as well as working with the local indigenous population (Djiru).

C4 recognised that the cassowary is in urgent need of protection and acted on that knowledge.  The Cassowary is vital to the sustained diversity of the rainforest ecosystem.  Cassowary’s are the only animals capable of distributing the seeds of over 70 tree species, due to the size of the encompassing fruit being too large for any other rainforest species to eat and relocate.  There are also 80+ species of plants which are toxic and are only able to be consumed safely by the cassowary.  As a result of this, the cassowary is vital for the widespread continuance of over 150 plant species!!  This is why the cassowary is known as a keystone species.

The main reason that Cassowaries are now under threat, is due to previous (and in some cases ongoing) development, which has left areas of rainforest isolated from others, cut off by roads and buildings.  Cassowaries then increasingly become the victims of car collisions, and fights to the death occur between themselves as these animals are highly territorial, and need their own ‘space’.  Following cyclone Yasi in 2011, a lot of their territory having been destroyed, they were forced to forage further afield which resulted in more traffic accidents and negative interactions.  C4 set up feeding stations for these magnificent creatures to aid in reducing the negative effects of this cyclone.

C4 however, is working to repair damage that has already been done.  They are working to buy back land that has been developed on and desecrated and aid in the restoration of the area in order to create safe ‘corridors’ which the Cassowaries can then pass safely through, spread out in and hopefully increase in numbers.

If you would like to donate money to C4’s project to protect this amazingly unique and essential animal, then please, follow this link: http://www.givenow.com.au/cassowaryconservation and even if you just donate £1, that is $1.50 (approx) of your money going towards the protection of an ecosystem.  Mission beach has the highest density of Cassowaries in Australia, and they need protecting.

Find out more about the Cassowary and their plight by watching this David Attenborough documentary:

 

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The Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia – World Heritage Site

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All the Wet Tropics Rainforest’s in Queensland are inscribed on the World Heritage List.  This means that Australia may receive funding and advice to help protect and conserve these areas for future generations to enjoy.  Rainforests are considered uniquely ‘special’ due to their intense concentration and heavy diversity of life that resides in them.  Australia’s tropical rainforests are also the Earth’s oldest continually surviving tropical rainforests and are therefore considered essential for understanding the Earth’s evolutionary history.  This is particularly due to the fact that it contains relicts of the Gondwanan forest that covered Australia (and part of Antarctica) 50-100 million years ago, essentially making it a time capsule for the past.

by Brian Gratwicke
Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas)

The Wet Tropics of Queensland runs along the northeast coast of Australia for approximately 280 miles from south of Cooktown to north of Townsville.  This stretch encompasses around 894,420 hectares of stunningly biodiverse land.  These rainforests experience a wet and dry season, as well as frequent cyclonic events.  They have an extremely high yet seasonal rainfall, the average of which ranges between 4000mm by the coast to 1200mm out at the far West.  The Wet Tropics are also recognised by its steep environmental gradients, ranging from sea-level to the highlands at 800m, with isolated peaks up to 1622m.

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