Friday, March 20, 2009

When Cassowaries Attack

I was staying on the coast in northern Queesland having finished a whitewater trek on the Herbert river. It was pretty much miles from nowhere, in the middle of a rainforest and I was feeling relaxed after happily surviving a jaunt down a river where getting tossed into the water could get you eaten by an estuarine crocodile. "Can we swim here?" someone asked during a break in the trip. "No problem, mate" the guide said. "No one's spotted a croc in this part of the river in years." OK, then.

Large reptiles aside, by now I had adjusted to this place where large creepy-crawlers made up my new neighborhood. That morning the rodent-sized spider I spotted resting on his equally condo-sized web outside my door barely warranted a second glance. I was acclimated to bugs the size of small herding animals, although scenes of Mothra suddenly descending upon me were kept mostly at bay. The day before we had spotted a tennis court in the woods down the path. Thinking a game of tennis sounded good, and as the day looked sunny, we decided why not take advantage of good weather in the rainforest and play a little tennis.

Barely into the first set of play, I returned the serve while out of the corner of my eye I notice what looks like a large, ostrich-sized, blue-headed hairy bird making its way out of the forest and onto the tennis court. Not sure exactly what to make of our new tennis fan we stopped and kind of looked at it approach in amazement.

"Do you know what that is?" my erstwhile tennis partner asks. I said, ""No clue." and added, "And, by the way, what's that thing stuck on it's head?" I knew things grew large in the rainforest but this was one damn, large chicken making its way towards us. Immediately, my mind goes to those sharp-beaked velociraptors in Jurrasic Park but, since I could see the thing couldn't fly, I thought we might be able to our run it.

Anyway, it seemed friendly enough, and more than likely, was after the fallen purple fruit littering our tennis court. I suggested to my buddy he try feeding it to keep it occupied while I ran off to get my camera (brave of me, no?). So, as I ran for the camera, hoping the hairy bird wasn't dragging my friend into the forest for his next meal. I retrieved my camera for photograph proof and when I got back, we spent the next fifteen minutes or so standing at this thing at eye-level and throwing it plums (my way of going native). Anyway, after it had had enough of us, and the plums, we watched as it wandered back into the forest. Now I was thinking I have spent time chasing Canadian geese off the ninth hole on the golf course but large, hairy birds off a tennis court was a new one for me. After we finished our game we later mentioned to a local about seeing this huge, funny looking, blue-headed bird out in the forest.

"Oh ya, that's yer Cassowary, don't cha' know? Big sucker... yep, gotta watch 'em tho' they can rip your chest open with a good kick of one of those claws on their feet," he warned.

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