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1Frame4Nature | Christian Ziegler

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A male cassowary looking through the undergrowth.

What YOU Can Do: 

Go and sit quietly in nature to develop a new appreciation of your local wild places.

–1Frame4Nature is a collection of images and stories from around the globe of your personal connection to nature. However small, when combined with the actions of others, your individual actions can impact real and tangible outcomes for the preservation of our planet. Submit your story now!

cassoway foraging next to creek
This is a cassowary pair foraging next to a creek. They are only together for a 2-week period, during which the female lays eggs then she leaves the male to incubate the eggs and raise the chicks.

iLCP Fellow Christian Ziegler‘s 1Frame4Nature: 

Sometime in May 2012, I found myself sitting on the damp forest floor of the Daintree rainforest in Queensland, Australia next to a sleeping cassowary. Cassowaries are huge flightless birds that live in the tropical forests of Australia and New Guinea. They look prehistoric; half-bird and half-dinosaur with fine, glossy-black feathers, a long featherless neck colored turquoise, red and orange, and an absurdly tall shiny-brown casque on top of their heads. Sadly, cassowaries are endangered across much of their range due to hunting, loss of forest habitat, and predation from feral pigs and dogs. It is estimated that fewer than 1500 Southern Cassowaries remain in the tropical forests of Queensland, Australia, and this is where I went to document these awesome birds.

male and female taking 'ritual bath' together
Male and female taking a ‘ritual bath’ together before mating.
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About every second day a large bright green egg is deposited into the ‘nest’, a typical clutch is 3 to 5 eggs.

Locals called this cassowary sleeping next to me “Dad”, and I had been following him for weeks. At first I could follow him just 10 or 20 meters before he disappeared from view into the forest. Everyday I would quietly trail “Dad” through the Queensland rainforest with a pair of clippers to cut a path for my clumsy self as he slipped silently around liana tangles and under fallen trees. He was shockingly fast, but each day I could follow him for a little longer and by day ten he seemed to have grown used to me. I discovered that he spent all day looking for fruit, eating fruit, pooping out digested fruit and sleeping…. But mostly sleeping! I spent hours sitting next to an enormous sleeping dinosaur of a bird.

MM7817 Southern Cassowary male cassowary with 3 chicks about 7 weeks old
A 6-week-old chick looks at “Dad” for instructions on what to eat. They need thorough teaching because many fruits are poisonous.

Cassowaries are part of an ancient group of birds (Ratites) that first appear in the fossil record 56-Million years ago, and they live in rainforests that are even older. The Daintree forest is more than 130-Million years old and cassowaries play a vital role here. They distribute more seeds than any other animal in the Queensland rainforest. Each day an adult cassowary eats hundreds of fruits, from tiny berries to the exotic big blue quandong fruit. Then as the cassowary wanders through the forest it defecates large seed-filled mounds of poop, dispersing seeds across their entire territory. Cassowaries are the forest gardeners, and without them Queensland’s diverse tropical forests would look very different.

MM7817 Southern Cassowary time series of cassuary dropping
A huge (about 5 pound!) fecal pile of cassowary dung – filled with goodness. Cassowaries are amazing seed dispersers: this dung pile contains more than 300 seeds!
old cassowary dropping with large seeds, one of them germinating
After about one or two months, the seeds start to sprout from the dung in a bed of nutrients. This is the best fertilizer!

I tend not to use hides when trying to capture pictures of wildlife, I prefer to quietly follow animals and habituate them to my presence. I can see the full breadth of their behavior this way. It takes time but it is so rewarding. I usually find that there is a moment when animals stop worrying about you and accept your presence, and then you can peek into their daily lives. This is what happened with “Dad”. I was granted a little insight into his life, and I watched him incubate his clutch of electric green eggs and raise three awkward fuzzy chicks until they were almost adults and ready to leave him to find territories of their own.

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A road sign perfectly illustrates the dangers of traffic for cassowaries.
MM7817 Southern Cassowary Road kill victim that just has been picked up by ranger Adrian Hogg. This is a young female, appr. 4 years old, which was run over in North Mission Beach.
A road kill victim that was just picked up by ranger Adrian Hogg. This is a young female, about 4 years old, which was run over in North Mission Beach.

I would encourage anyone to go and sit quietly somewhere wild. You don’t have to follow a cassowary through the rainforest to learn about nature. Go and sit by a local pond or in a patch of forest near your neighborhood, and wait to see what happens. Maybe you will see a bumblebee pollinating a flower, or a little wren looking for insects. Maybe you will see something that surprises you, or an animal you never expected. You will develop a greater appreciation for the nature that surrounds us; it’s complexity, and the unique role of each organism. I think you will also enjoy yourself, and maybe feel a little happier and more relaxed for it.

Go and immerse yourself in nature, for the better we know our natural environment the more we want to care for and conserve it.

MM7817 Southern Cassowary full moon rise and blue hour with female cassowary
A female cassowary looking into an unknown future under a rising moon.

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