Sometimes we feel as though we are intruding into private lives, but for Big Bertha and Crinkle-Cut, it’s all in a day’s work, the same old, same old….! While we were surreptitiously observing and filming, we heard a powerful snort from the adjacent jungle. Was it another male cassowary or a feral pig? We don’t know, but the two cassowaries completed their coupling before separating abruptly. Crinkle-Cut is our favourite cassowary father, gentle, diligent and keen to remain in Big Bertha’s territory. He’s been missing for a while, but now that he’s back in favour with Big Bertha, we expect to see him more frequently.
Our observations have shown that Crinkle Cut is reluctant to dump his children. We have even seen him teaching the cassowary chicks to hide from Big Bertha while their father mates – just to keep the old woman happy! According to the experts, cassowaries usually chase the chicks away somewhere between 6 and 9 months. This leaves them free to mate, sit on the eggs and care for a new batch of off-spring.
Life hasn’t been quite so simple here in the Daintree Rainforest. While Crinkle Cut was ever-ready to mate, after he had hidden the chicks, he maintained his watchful supervision of his chicks for 19 months. He did not sit on the eggs even though he obviously sired some of the chicks. Kron, who was persuaded by Big Bertha to get rid of his chicks when they were 14 months old, was ready to sit on all of the eggs, not really concerned with the paternity issues.
One of the biggest problems that we are facing in the Daintree is the increase in pig hunting. While we acknowledge that the pigs are a threat to the environment, including the cassowaries, any eradication program will need to remove at least 80% of the estimated 10,000 pigs in the Daintree to be effective. Pig dogs are a menace as they chase cassowaries and chicks and by separating the father from his chicks, the chicks become isolated and die.
This family photo of Big Bertha, Crinkle Cut and the two chicks show another little known aspect of family interaction. These two chicks were lost, probably through the introduction of pig dogs into the rainforest. Every aspect of the chicks’ diet is carefully supervised and moderated by the father. I have seen the male remove a seed from a chicks mouth because it was too big, break it into smaller pieces and feed it to the chicks. If we happen upon a family during meal time, the male will not permit us to walk past and disturb this very important feeding function. It’s not a hardship for our tour group to stop, watch and photograph a privileged encounter.