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Why the World's Deadliest Bird Keeps Breaking Into People's Houses

Sometimes, to be cruel is to be kind.

by Sarah Emerson
Aug 22 2016, 7:15pm

Image: Flickr/A. Drauglis

Living in Australia comes with some caveats, such as the constant threat of being burgled by the world's deadliest bird.

Recently, Oceania's most formidable ratite—the cassowary—has been breaking and entering the houses of Queensland residents, requiring wildlife officials to relocate them. Last week, a young cassowary named "Ruthie" was captured in Coquette Point after she "threatened an older man and tried to enter his Innisfail home," according to the Brisbane Times.

While this probably conjures images of something more sinister, here's what likely happened, according to officials: Locals had been feeding the neighborhood's cassowaries, and habituated them to rely on people for food. Ruthie, being a hungry wild animal, approached the man expecting an easy, tasty treat. But Ruthie is also a cassowary, and sports talons that can disembowel a human, so her eager advances were more terrifying than puppy dog-like.

Male cassowary and chick. Image: Flickr/webmink

After the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) removed the bird, they published a statement urging residents to not feed wild cassowaries. According to the agency, Ruthie has since been relocated to a remote area where she's unlikely to encounter humans.

"It is always preferable to leave a cassowary in its home range," the EHP said. "But in this instance the proximity to homes meant the risk of future attacks was considered unacceptably high."

Only one week prior, the EHP was called in to wrangle yet another cassowary in northern Queensland. A male cassowary, who was described as a "regular visitor" to the town of Tully, attacked a man, leaving him a bit bruised and battered. The animal was later released into Wooroonooran National Park.

And in April, a beloved cassowary named "Peanut" caught a Queensland couple by surprise when he popped into their Wongaling Beach home. Thankfully, no harm came to the pair who told the Cairns Post that they "hid in the garage because although we know him he is still a wild animal."

It doesn't take a detective's badge to recognize the pattern here. In their misplaced efforts to be kind, residents have likely put themselves and cassowaries at risk. For whatever reason, the bird's ominous record of injuring humans—and endangered status—hasn't deterred people from meddling with them.

Australia's wildlife officials have long warned people to stay away from the flightless birds. After a Category 5 cyclone hit the Queensland coast in 2011, many cassowaries in the area were forced out of their forested habitats in search of food. Anticipating that locals would try to intervene, the state issued a stern warning to steer clear of the birds.

"It's vital that members of the public don't feed cassowaries—for their own safety and in the interests of the birds' survival long term," Kate Jones, Queensland's sustainability minister, told The Telegraph. "Cassowaries that come to expect food from humans can become aggressive and dangerous."

Hmmm, this seems like a bad idea.

A study published in the Journal of Zoology once found that of the 150 known cassowary attacks on humans, 73 percent of them were motivated by the expectation of being fed. Cassowaries are shy by nature, the paper notes, but can become aggressive as their habitat continues to overlap with developed areas, such as Coquette Point.

Many Innisfail locals are now protesting Ruthie's relocation on Facebook, claiming that a pet dog was actually responsible for provoking her. Dissenters are also being urged to issue formal complaints with the EHP about the dog's behavior.

But not everyone sees Innisfail residents as blameless. As one person put it: "I think the people that see themselves as 'custodians' of the cassowary are one of the biggest problems… killing them with kindness so to speak."