A strange bird from Down Under

A strange bird from Down

By STUART WINER
November 8, 2009 12:54
2 minute read.
cassowarie 248.88

cassowarie 248.88. (photo credit: )

The names of some Australian species can often be a source of amusement to the Western ear, and the Double-Wattled Cassowary is no exception. As might be expected for a creature with such an unlikely name, the cassowary is quite strange looking, too. The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo has two of these birds, a male and a female, both named after fictional characters. The female is called Yubaba after a character in the Japanese animated film Spirited Away. Harry Potter fans will recognize the male cassowary as the namesake of Buckbeak the hippogriff. Yubaba has been with the zoo for a number of years and is now 17 years old. She is in her prime for a cassowary, which can live to be 50. As a healthy female, Yubaba has proud blue-green plumage and a helmet-like casque that cassowaries develop with age. In addition, she has a fine pair of wattles - long, fleshy protrusions that dangle from her neck and are the height of fashion among cassowaries. By contrast Buckbeak, at just two and a half years old, has yet to show either a casque or wattles. This difference in age has created some tension between the two. When Buckbeak was first introduced to the exhibit, Yubaba showed romantic interest in her new mate. Buckbeak, however, as is often the case with immature males, panicked and ran for cover. Since then, keepers have kept the two birds separated for most of the day as they wait for the wattleless Buckbeak to grow a pair indicating his passage into maturity and hopefully a less bashful attitude. A species of flightless birds similar in appearance to emus, cassowaries are found in Indonesia, New Guinea and northeastern Australia. These large birds live in the rain forests, where they eat fallen fruit, fungi, insects and some invertebrates. Cassowaries are solitary birds and only get together during the mating season. Usually the female selects her mates and can have several partners, laying eggs from each. The domesticated males build the nests, incubate the eggs and take care of the hatched chicks. The birds are quite dangerous due to a sharp dagger-like inner toe on their three-toed feet. When threatened, they can deliver a powerful kick that could easily kill a person or a small animal. As a safety precaution, keepers only enter the exhibit in pairs - one to perform whatever task is required and the other to keep guard with a broom to prevent the birds from coming close. The cassowaries are on display all day at the Australia exhibit. Although they are generally kept apart, keepers occasionally experiment with allowing Yubaba and Buckbeak to get together for short periods of time.


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