Monday, September 16, 2013

Chased by a cassowary

[Michele]  For a couple days I've been in a funk because the things I've been doing, such as working at my computer, grocery shopping and reading a book, are all things that I could be doing in Amherst, MA.  I don't like the feeling that I'm wasting my time here in far north Queensland.  This feeling has been acerbated because, don't tell Sueann, but I tore my good calf on Sept 4.  It had been acting up for while but on Sept. 4 it popped and I've been limping around ever since then and not being able to do much.  With encouragement from Lorna, I went to a great PT on Saturday and he said that as soon as it doesn't hurt to walk, I have cart blanche to go walking.  I've been very eager to get out and about but it wasn't until Sunday that I could start to walk without pain.

So this morning I woke up with a plan. I would take a long (~1hr) walk along the beach and the track past the Surf Club.  About 1.2 miles into my walk I started walking along the track.  It is a jeep trail that makes a short cut from South Mission Beach to Wongaling Beach and meets up with Wheatley road by the tip (aka the dump).

The trail is not often used and I was pulling down a lot of spider webs.  Not enjoying the tickley-creepy feeling of the webs, I picked up a long palm front and waved it in front of me to knock down the webs as I walked.  After a while on the path (.2 mi), I came around a slight bend and encountered a cassowary standing in the track.

Wow. Cool!

Ok, is it male or female?  The females are taller (can be 6 feet) and more aggressive.  This one seemed small so I judged it as male and decided to take some photos of the cassowary.   The cassowary was keeping me in sight while I shot off a few photos.  When we've seen male cassowaries in the past, sometimes with chicks, they've been pretty skittish and moved away from us and into the woods pretty soon.  I was expecting that this one would move away soon.  Well, the cassowary did move, but not away.

In this next photo, you can see that the cassowary started to move towards me, into the next block of shade.  What?!?  Hey wait a second, I'm a 5'10" tall scary human and you should be going away from me.  Of course, you my dear cassowary, are a wild creature with razor sharp talons, a powerful beak and if female, aggressive territoriality.   And you are moving steadily towards me.

I've seen cassowaries walking slowly as they graze and I've also seen them walk at a determined pace when they are going somewhere.  I've also seen them run and let me tell you, they are fast.  The cassowary that was walking towards me on this path was walking in a determined steady way and had his/her eyes on me the whole time.  I also started to question my assessment of this bird's gender.

Enough picture taking!

It was time to walk slowing backwards keeping eye contact with the bird.  I also waved my palm frond in front of me and up high to make myself look bigger.  The cassowary kept coming.  I tried to back up more quickly, but my hurt calf limited my speed.  We did this for a while, looking at each other. The cassowary walking forward and me, heart thumping, walking backwards as best I could on the uneven track.

If a cassowary is aggressive you are supposed to do just as I did, backup slowly. If you turn and run, the cassowary may run after you - remember those talons and the beak?  Well I knew this but I also knew that with my injured calf, there was no way that I could run.  This is what scared me. What if the cassowary speeds up?  We were keeping about equal ground but I was going my fastest backwards walk speed and I knew that she could easily speed up her forwards walk.  I decided to risk turning away from her and walking forwards.

So I was able to walk more quickly as I walked forwards but I couldn't see the cassowary.   Every ten steps or so I would turn around.  She is still following me!   She wasn't running but still walking towards me and keeping her eyes on me.  Ten more steps.  Turn around. She is still following me!

After I walked around a bend I lost sight of her.  I didn't want to wait and have her appear around the bend close to where I was so I walked further down a straightaway and by now I was pretty close to the Surf Club.  I turned and waited.... no cassowary.  Should I wait some more?  No!  I kept walking onto paved road I was very happy to see people standing around talking at the Surf Club.


When my adrenaline levels settled down a bit I started to take in my surrounding in a whole new way.   What a beautiful place to be!

The rainforest covered hills in the distance looked glorious in the Spring sun. The tide was going out and the blue waters sparkled.  What an amazingly special place to be, right this moment.  I even saw an octopus (dead) on the way back. Or maybe it was an eight-armed sea star.. either way it was cool.

This ain't Amherst Massachusetts!

Addendum: I told some locals about my cassowary sighting and they report that a cassowary near the Surf Life Club has been fed by people and was probably wondering if I had brought it food.  Everyone agrees on one thing.. don't run when they come at you.


  1. Wow! What a scaRRrry story! and with your torn calf muscle! I tore my muscle too several years back when I was on a hike and I do NOT understand WHY I got this! and I was scared about not be able to return home with it. It was a good thing the return home was "only" a mile long. I remember the "pop" in my leg and had NOO idea what that was. Wow.. what a story you had to tell!! I m glad you made it back okayyyy! I went to physical therapist with my torn calf. They gave me ultrasound to speed up the healing of the muscles. It took a while before I was back to normal. ( I would not think you would get this if you are still doing ballet??) I got my torn muscle when I was hiking and broke into a run temporarily when I needed to catch up with George and then there was the POP! weird....

  2. Torn calves are frustrating in that they recur so much. I'm hoping that with good PT this time I might minimize recurrence.