Cassowaries are one of the largest birds in the world. They have big, three-toed feet with sharp claws which are fearsome, since cassowaries sometimes kick and injure, and even kill humans and other animals with their powerful legs. Cassowary claws are lethal weapons!
Cassowary claws are dagger-like and dangerous
Cassowaries and ostriches (the latter is the largest bird in the world) are the only two bird species worldwide that have caused human deaths by physical attack.
With those powerful legs and dagger-like sharp claws, cassowaries are dangerous animals. In New Guinea, the natives even use these sharp talons to make spears! Furthermore, they can sprint up to 50 km/h (31 mph), way faster than a human.
They are actually very shy animals. Like most animals, they do not attack for no reason. Statistics show that most cassowary attacks were actually self-defense. But they can be territorial and very defensive of their young. If people have been doing the wrong thing (for example, trying to feed them when the juveniles are around) they can get aggressive and attacks occur.
They also attack expecting or soliciting food from humans. People feed them, and they associate humans with food. The feeding of cassowaries also appears to change their natural behavior, making them bold and aggressive.
Attacks on humans are relatively rare, but there are documented cases where a cassowary (or two!) attacked and killed a human or an animal.
When attacking, cassowaries jump and kick with both legs at once. Their three-toed feet and sharp claws (the dagger-like middle claw of a cassowary can be 12 cm [4.7 inches] long!) can do enough damage to kill a human or an animal, for example, a dog.
In his 1958 book Living Birds of the World, American ornithologist Ernest Thomas Gilliard (November 23, 1912 – January 26, 1965) wrote:
“The inner or second of the three toes is fitted with a long, straight, murderous nail that can sever an arm or eviscerate an abdomen with ease. There are many records of natives being killed by this bird.”
According to a 2001 study published in the Journal of Zoology, of 221 cassowary attacks:
- 150 were against humans, 75% of these by cassowaries fed previously by people
- Victims were chased or charged in 70% of the incidents and kicked in 15%
- The cassowaries appeared to be expecting or soliciting food from humans (74% of the incidents), defending food (5%), and defending themselves (15%) or their chicks or eggs (7%)
- Among those 150 attacks, only one human death was reported.
But, there are probably unreported attacks.
A very famous and fatal cassowary attack occurred back in April 2019. Marvin Hajos (75) was keeping two cassowaries as pets in his estate. While feeding them, he was killed by one of the birds (or both of them? According to reports, it was unclear which bird attacked him – or if it was both).
Cassowaries are endangered
And as always, the reason is humans. Habitat loss and fragmentation is the primary cause of their population decline.
Vehicle strikes, dog attacks, and hunting (why do people even still hunt in the 21st century?) are also the most frequent reasons for the death of these amazing birds.