Recovery plan for the southern cassowary Casuarius johnsonii



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Recovery plan for the southern cassowary

Casuarius casuarius johnsonii
Prepared by Peter Latch for the Cassowary Recovery Team








Title: Recovery plan for the southern cassowary Casuarius casuarius johnsonii
Prepared by: Peter Latch for the Cassowary Recovery Team

© The State of Queensland, Environmental Protection Agency, 2007
Copyright protects this publication. Except for purposes permitted by the Copyright Act, reproduction by whatever means is prohibited without the prior written knowledge of the Environmental Protection Agency. Inquiries should be addressed to PO Box 15155, CITY EAST, QLD 4002.
Copies may be obtained from the: Executive Director

Sustainable Communities Environmental Protection Agency PO Box 15155

CITY EAST QLD 4002
Disclaimer:

The Australian Government, in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency, facilitates the publication of recovery plans to detail the actions needed for the conservation

of threatened native wildlife.
This State approved recovery plan was prepared with financial support form the Australian Government and has been adopted as a National Recovery Plan under the provisions of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The attainment of objectives and the provision of funds may be subject to budgetary and other constraints affecting the parties involved, and may also be constrained by the need to address other conservation priorities. Approved recovery actions may be subject to modification due to changes in knowledge and changes in conservation status.


Publication reference:

Latch, P. 2007. National recovery plan for the southern cassowary Casuarius casuarius johnsonii . Report to Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra. Environmental Protection Agency.



Contents
Executive Summary ................................................................................................................... 4
I. General information ............................................................................................................... 5 Conservation status ......................................................................................................... 5 International obligations .................................................................................................. 5 Affected interests ............................................................................................................ 5 Consultation with Indigenous people .............................................................................. 5 Benefits to other species or communities ........................................................................ 5

Social and economic impacts........................................................................................... 6


2. Biological information ........................................................................................................... 6 Species description .......................................................................................................... 6 Life history and ecology ................................................................................................... 6 Distribution, abundance and population trends ................................................................ 7 Habitat critical to the survival of the species .................................................................... 7

Important populations....................................................................................................... 8

Figure 1: Distribution of cassowary habitat in Australia ................................................... 9

Figure 2: Distribution of cassowary habitat in the Wet Tropics ........................................ 10


3. Threats .................................................................................................................................... 11 Biology and ecology relevant to threats ........................................................................... 11 Identification of threats ..................................................................................................... 11 Areas and populations under threat ................................................................................. 14
4. Evaluation of previous recovery plan .................................................................................. 14
5. Recovery Objectives, Performance Criteria and Actions .................................................. 16 Overall objective............................................................................................................... 16 Specific objective 1: Protect essential cassowary habitat and landscape corridors......... 16 Specific objective 2: Institute a more coordinated and stronger planning response to development issues in cassowary habitat ........................................................................ 18 Specific objective 3: Implement strategies to protect cassowary populations by

minimising the adverse impacts of roads, dogs, pigs and cyclone events ....................... 19 Specific objective 4: Develop an effective cassowary rescue, rehabilitation and release programme ....................................................................................................................... 21 Specific objective 5: Cassowary populations are monitored to assess population size, trends and status.............................................................................................................. 21

Specific objective 6: Improve understanding of cassowary ecology and threats to its

survival. ............................................................................................................................ 23 Specific objective 7: Engage the community in cassowary conservation and education . 24 Specific objective 8: Manage the recovery programme ................................................... 26 Summary table ................................................................................................................. 27


6. Management practices .......................................................................................................... 29

7. Evaluation of recovery plan .................................................................................................. 29

8. Costs of recovery................................................................................................................... 29 References.................................................................................................................................. 31 Appendix I Recovery team membership................................................................................. 34 Appendix 2 Regional Ecosystems designated as essential cassowary habitat .................. 35 Appendix 3 Habitat definitions used in cassowary mapping ................................................ 38

Executive Summary
Species

The southern cassowary Casuarius casuarius johnsonii is a large flightless bird found in north

Queensland rainforests and associated vegetation mosaics.
Current species status

The southern cassowary is listed as ‘Endangered’ under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992, the Wet Tropics population is listed as ‘Endangered’ and the Cape York populations are

listed as ‘Vulnerable’.
Habitat and distribution summary

Although occurring primarily in rainforest and associated vegetation, the cassowary also uses woodland, swamp and disturbed habitats for a year-round supply of fleshy fruits. It occurs in three broad populations. In the Wet Tropics it is distributed widely from Cooktown to just north of

Townsville. Core habitat is coastal lowlands between Ingham and Mossman, and uplands in the southern Atherton Tablelands and other ranges. On Cape York, it occurs as two disjunct populations in vine-forest communities: one in MacIlwraith and Iron Ranges, the other in Shelburne Bay.
Threats summary

The Wet Tropics cassowary population is impacted upon by eight main threats. These same threats are absent or of lesser significance for the Cape York population.


1. Habitat loss from clearing: more than 80 per cent of coastal lowland habitat has gone.

2. Habitat fragmentation: much of remaining habitat is fragmented, isolating groups and disrupting movement.

3. Habitat degradation: through invasion of weeds such as pond apple, and changed fire regimes.

4. Roads and traffic: cassowaries are killed by vehicles on roads.

5. Dog attacks: urban development brings more domestic dogs.

6. Hand feeding: brings cassowaries closer to vehicle traffic and dogs.

7. Diseases: aspergillosis, avian tuberculosis and parasites.

8. Natural catastrophic events: cyclones.


Overall recovery objective

The overall objective of this recovery plan is to protect cassowaries, habitats and corridors from threats through better planning, monitoring and community involvement.


Summary of recovery actions

The following recovery actions are required:


y complete the mapping of essential cassowary habitat and identify areas and corridors to protect, restore and manage

y develop and implement Cassowary Conservation Local Area Plans as part of local planning

y minimise cassowary road deaths and dog attacks, and assess impact of pigs

y implement a translocation plan as part of rescue, rehabilitation and release

y establish a monitoring programme in key habitats

y develop and implement a population survey methodology based on faecal DNA

y study cassowary population at Mission Beach and determine genetic structure and

y involve community in cassowary conservation.


Evaluation and review

Members of the recovery team will review and evaluate progress annually. An independent external examiner will review and evaluate performance of the recovery plan within five years of the plan being adopted.



I. General information

Conservation status

The southern cassowary Casuarius casuarius johnsonii is listed as ‘Endangered’ under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NC Act) the Wet Tropics population is listed as ‘Endangered’ and the Cape York populations are listed as ‘Vulnerable’.


International obligations

The southern cassowary is not listed under any international agreements. This recovery plan is consistent with Australia’s international responsibilities.


Affected interests

Given their extensive distribution throughout the Wet Tropics and Cape York, cassowaries occur on many land tenures. Cassowaries are of great conservation interest to the general community, are of significant cultural importance to Aboriginal communities and of scientific interest to

researchers. Affected government authorities, organisations and individuals include:

. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

. Wet Tropics Management Authority

. Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water

. Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries

. Queensland Department of Main Roads

. Local governments of Atherton, Cairns, Cardwell, Cook, Douglas, Dalrymple, Eacham,

Herberton, Hinchinbrook, Johnstone, Mareeba and Thuringowa

. Regional Natural Resource Management Bodies (NRM) — Terrain Queensland NRM (Far

North Queensland), Cape York Community Engagement Group

. Aboriginal communities, councils and representative bodies — Aboriginal Rainforest Council and Girringun Aboriginal Corporation

. Land and Sea Management Centres on Cape York

. Local community conservation groups

. Conservation groups including the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre, Birds Australia and Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland

. Scientific research organisations including CSIRO and universities

. Private landholders

. Tourism bodies and local operators and

. Zoological institutions and associated industry organisations e.g. the Australasian Regional

Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (ARAZPA)
Consultation with Indigenous people

In the implementation of recovery actions, consideration will be given to the interests of Indigenous people whose land the cassowary is found on, and involvement from these groups encouraged. The plan allows for traditional owners to be represented through Aboriginal corporations, Land and

Sea Management Centres and communities. The Aboriginal Rainforest Council represents 17

Traditional Owner groups in the Wet Tropics and the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation represents Traditional Owners at a sub-regional level in the southern part of the Wet Tropics Region. Both helped develop the plan and are part of the recovery team.


Benefits to other species or communities

The cassowary is a major disperser of rainforest plant seeds and the only long distance disperser of some species with large fleshy fruits. Because it is essential to forest ecology and habitats of diverse species, the cassowary is a “keystone” species (i.e. one whose conservation is crucial to other species and ecosystems).


In the Wet Tropics, 800,000ha of essential cassowary habitat includes 91 Regional Ecosystems of which 15 are ‘Endangered’ and 23 ‘Of concern’ under the Vegetation Management Act 1999 (VM Act) (Appendix 2). Its habitat includes more than 106 plant species and 37 animal species

identified as threatened under State and Commonwealth legislation. Protection of cassowary habitat will secure the habitat of many other species and ecological communities.


Social and economic impacts

The implementation of this recovery plan is unlikely to cause significant adverse social and economic impacts. Issues surrounding protection and retention of habitat and any likely impact on landholders have been considered in the development of the Wet Tropics Regional Vegetation Management Codes for Broadscale Clearing and for Ongoing Clearing Purposes developed under the VM Act. In addition, the use of economic and other incentives for retaining cassowary habitat is subject to various actions within the plan.


Successful recovery efforts may have positive social, economic and educational impacts. The cassowary is a flagship for Wet Tropics rainforest conservation. As this plan intends to raise the profile of the cassowary, it may offer new economic opportunities and benefits to local communities.

2. Biological information

Species description

Cassowaries belong to the ratite group of large flightless land birds. Of the three species, only the southern cassowary, Casuarius casuarius johnsonii, is found in Australia. It is the largest native vertebrate in Australian rainforests. Adults grow to two metres tall with males up to 55kg and females, usually larger, up to 76kg (Westcott and Reid 2002, QPWS unpub. data).


Newly hatched chicks are striped dark brown and creamy white. After three to six months the stripes fade and the plumage changes to brown. As the young mature the plumage darkens, the wattles and casque develop and the skin colour on the neck and wattles brighten.
Adults have shiny black plumage and a distinctive neck and head: brilliant blue and purple with long, drooping red wattles and amber eye. The tall helmet or casque on maturing birds grows with age. Each leg has three toes, with the inside toe bearing a large dagger-shaped claw. The sexes are fairly similar though females are slightly larger. Cassowaries mature at about three years of age.
Life history and ecology

Although occurring primarily in rainforest and associated vegetation mosaics, the cassowary also uses woodland, swamp and disturbed habitats as intermittent food sources and as connecting habitat between more suitable sites (Crome and Moore 1993; Bentrupperbäumer 1998). It requires a high diversity of fruiting trees to provide a year-round supply of fleshy fruits. While some habitats may be important only briefly in the annual cycle of food production, they may be crucial to the

survival of cassowaries whose home range encompasses them (Bentrupperbäumer 1998). Crome

and Moore (1990) suggest that at times of food stress in the rainforest, such as after cyclones, food resources in non-rainforest habitats may be more important.


Their diet includes fleshy fruits of up to 238 plant species, including seven exotics (Westcott et al.

2005). While fallen fruit is the primary food source, cassowaries also eat small vertebrates, invertebrates, fungi, plants and carrion (Marchant and Higgins 1990). They forage for about 35 per cent of the day, mainly early morning and late afternoon (Westcott et al. 2005).


A large majority of seeds ingested by cassowaries retain their viability and are passed whole (Stocker and Irvine 1983, Crome and Moore 1990, Bentrupperbäumer 1992). It has been demonstrated that passage of some seeds through cassowaries can improve germination rates (Webber and Woodrow 2004).
Cassowaries are one of only a few frugivores that can disperse large rainforest fruits and are the only long distance dispersal vector for large seeded fruits (Crome and Moore 1988, 1990; Westcott et al. 2005). It has been estimated that on average cassowaries move four per cent of seeds they

consume more than 1km and an estimated average maximum distance of 1.473km (Westcott at al.

2005). These data indicate that cassowaries have the potential to provide significantly longer dispersal on occasion, as much as 5.41km. The combination of long distance dispersal ability and landscape scale movement means that cassowaries play a significant role in moving seeds between populations and into new regenerating areas (Westcott et al. 2005). The loss of cassowaries from part or all of their range results in relatively rapid changes in fruit dimensions and population level dynamics, particularly for large-seeded species (Westcott et al. 2005).
The cassowary is territorial and solitary, with contact between mature individuals generally only tolerated during mating. Sexes will maintain independent but overlapping home ranges with female home ranges encompassing those of one to several males (Bentruperbäumer 1998). Home ranges fluctuate depending on season and availability of fruit, with estimates of between 0.52km2 to

2.35km2 recorded (Bentrupperbäumer 1998; Moore and Moore 2001). Cassowaries may also tolerate each other in areas of super abundant fallen fruit and have been known to congregate in

areas when artificially fed on a regular basis (QPWS unpublished).
Females lay three to five olive-green eggs, generally between June and October. Males incubate the clutch for about 50 days before raising the young alone for about a year (Bentrupperbäumer

1998). Young birds must then seek their own home range, but with limited opportunities, particularly due to high fragmentation and loss of habitat, the sub-adult mortality rate is probably high.


Distribution, abundance and population trends

Cassowaries in the Wet Tropics were historically distributed between Cooktown in the north, south to Townsville and west to the extent of rainforest including the entire rainforested portion of the Atherton Tableland (Marchant and Higgins 1990). Present distribution remains similar but greatly

reduced and fragmented by forest clearance. Areas in which cassowaries are thought to be extinct include large parts of the Atherton Tablelands, the lower Goldsborough Valley, the floor of the Whyanbeel valley, the Clohesy River region and the Cassowary Range (Crome and Moore 1990). The species has seldom been reported from around Cooktown, and near Townsville it only occurs in low abundances in higher altitude areas of Bluewater and Mt Spec. Core habitat remains in the rainforest and associated habitats of the coastal lowlands between Ingham and Mossman, and the upland areas incorporating Seaview and Kirrama Range, the southern Atherton and Evelyn Tablelands, the Lamb Range and the Carbine, Finnegan and Thornton uplands.
Cassowaries on Cape York Peninsula historically extended from just west of the tip of the Cape (at the mouth of the Jardine River) and down the east coast to at least as far south as Massey River (Thomson 1935) and probably further south into the Princess Charlotte Bay area (QPWS 2003). Cassowaries are known today from all historical sites with the exception of those in the far north. Cassowaries are suspected to have disappeared from the Lockerbie Scrub near Bamaga, as there have been no sightings since 1986 (QPWS 2003). Cassowaries on Cape York occur as two disjunct populations: a southern population centred on the vine forests of the MacIlwraith and Iron Ranges and a northern population centred on the much less extensive vine forests north of Shelburne Bay (Appendix 4: Figure 1). Vine-forests are very poorly developed south of the

Princess Charlotte Bay area (Neldner and Clarkson 1995) and it is likely that the Cape York cassowary populations have been disjunct from the Wet Tropics population since well before the arrival of Europeans.


In 1988 the Wet Tropics population was estimated at between 2500—4000 adults (Crome and Moore 1990), by 2001 it was estimated at less than 1500 (Moore and Moore 2001). These estimates have been based on extrapolated survey data from several focal area studies (Moore and Moore 1999a, c, d, f; Moore and Moore 2001) but there are no detailed descriptions of the process used to arrive at Wet Tropics-wide estimates.

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