the birth of a cassowary, the first in the zoo

Mulhouse Zoo has just registered its first birth of the cassowary, a bird of the ostrich family, with a pointed bump on the skull. A rare event in captivity in this species with complicated reproduction. The baby cassowary will attend the zoo in Verona, Italy, next spring.

He was born a few months ago in all discretion. However, it is the first for the Mulhouse Zoo and Botanical Park and an event that is rare enough in captivity to be brought to the attention of the general public. On September 1, 2021, at the Mulhouse site, a baby female cassowary was born. A birth among the ten recorded that year, in all European zoos.

This large bird, from the ostrich family, with a dinosaur look, can weigh between 50 and 85 kg and measure up to 1.70 meters. It is native to the dense rainforests of New Guinea and northeastern Australia. Its name comes from the large pointed bump planted on top of its skull.

The story of the helmeted cassowary begins in 2015 at Mulhouse Zoo with the arrival of a breeding pair. The warlike customs of the species, which are considered dangerous, will quickly put the animal keepers in line: “It is a running bird, close to the emu, which has a reputation for being quite aggressive. They are armed with large claws on each leg and equipped with a helmet, which is sometimes used to recharge. rightly points out Alexandre Pétri, caretaker at Mulhouse Zoo.

For these reasons, it is not advisable to venture into their territory. To control the cassowary’s movements in full safety, the two enclosures dedicated to the bird are equipped with a system of boxes and hatches.

Reproduction, complicated, was the culmination of a long work of observation. Daily work done by the healers for several months, as Alexandre Pétri explains: “It is a solitary bird, they must be kept separate from each other. The male must feel the right moment to approach the female whose at times aggressive behavior may turn against him. What makes reproductions difficult and rare in zoos“.

The healers had to find the right moment to put them together, moments that can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. It all depends on their mood. In any case, the patience that the healers had to show ended up paying off: “We were able to observe nocturnal matings, which allowed us to give birth “, emphasizes Alexandre Petri.

Four large eggs were laid over a three-week period between late June and early July. A single fertilized egg gave birth to a baby chick two months later.

As with all birds in the ostrich family, it is the male that raises the young. The mother prefers to leave the nest for other males. “The father guards the nest and raises the young until it loses its young plumage. This period may last 18 months “, explains Alexander.

The young are striped at birth, like wild boar. This plumage serves in their natural environment as camouflage. For women, it’s a sign that does not deceive: the male is busy …

Cassowaries are primarily frugal. In Mulhouse’s zoo and botanical park, they are fed with apples, bananas and seasonal fruits. In the wild, they sometimes eat mushrooms, small vertebrates and insects.

They swallow their food whole, take it in the beak and then throw it in the air so that it falls directly into the beak.

The function of the helmet is still poorly known, as only a few observations have been made in nature. However, observations at zoos suggest that they could use this bump as a shovel in search of food.

There were 1,500 to 2,500 wild individuals in 2002, and the population is constantly declining. This species is therefore classified as vulnerable on the red list by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). In Australia, the biggest danger is the destruction and fragmentation of their habitats. In Indonesia and New Guinea, the species has been widely hunted because of its meat, which is considered a very delicacy. This hunt led to the species disappearing completely from certain areas.

The species is part of the EEP program (European breeding program). It is in this context and to form a couple that the young cassowary joins the Parco natura viva in Italy this spring.

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