As Father’s Day approaches on 20 June, one species at Edinburgh Zoo faces a potentially lethal battle in his quest to become a Dad. The southern cassowary, a large flightless bird from the tropics of New Guinea and Australia, has to judge whether it is the right time to approach the female or face a vicious and potentially lethal rebuff to his advances. And if that’s not enough, he gets landed with childcare afterwards!
In the last few months, keepers have witnessed positive breeding signs from the pair, with the first cassowary eggs laid [unfertilised] at the Zoo since the late 1980s. However, initial attempts to introduce the male to the female resulted in a scuffle and the male received a few warning blows.
As Colin Oulton, Head Keeper for birds at Edinburgh Zoo said, this is a careful operation as potentially the female could scare the male off or worse kill him outright.
“The cassowary is a solitary bird and pairs only come together to breed. The male is immediately disadvantaged due to the female being at least a third larger. Her size and strength means that a kick could fatally injure the male.
“The male and female are kept in separate enclosures and when the keepers observed nesting signs we considered introducing them. Since our initial attempt we have seen some really interesting behaviour such as booming calling sounds that we’ve never heard before suggesting the female may be getting used to the idea of potential mate.”
This species is believed to have undergone a rapid decline in the last three generations (30 years) and conservation experts have classed it as vulnerable. Zoo collections provide a safeguard to the species just in case the worst should happen in the wild. In the coming weeks, keepers will consider the best time to try to attempt a second introduction and hopefully the female will go on to lay a new clutch of viable eggs.
Females lay three to eight large, pale green-blue eggs which measure about 9 by 14 centimetres - only ostrich and emu eggs are larger. The female does not care for the eggs or the chicks but moves on leaving the male to incubate the eggs for 50–52 days and then to has to protect the brown-striped chicks who stay in the nest for about nine months.
Zoo News Digest on
and subscribe to the largest and longest established zoo related ezine