While Australia is home to deadly animals, the cassowary is uniformly feared. So why did we domesticate them?



Otherwise known as the Australian murder turkey, the cassowary is rightly feared for being in possession of two things: having zero patience and being able to kick you to death with a single blow. Clearly, the cassowary has a Jurassic case of the Mondays and is not to be trifled with. However, a body of study has emerged that indicates that the cassowary was domesticated long before the humble chicken.

As a science publication put it, “eggshells deposited at Yuku and Kiowa in the New Guinea Highlands disproportionately appear to have been collected just a few days before they hatched. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team who discovered this pattern explains it (almost in time for world Cassowary Day) as the result of people’s aim to raise the hatchlings, not cook the eggs. The heaviest birds to have inhabited the Earth in recent times – New Zealands’ Moa and Madagascar’s elephant bird – both quickly became extinct shortly after humans arrived on their home islands. Somehow, however, three species of cassowary have survived in New Guinea and Australia, co-inhabiting with humans for tens of thousands of years.”



The research suggests that the survival of the cassowary is our fault, as experts believe that we raised them instead of just hunting them to extinction.

Dr Kristina Douglass of Penn State University and co-authors studied the developmental stages of shells deposited at the two sites 18,000 years ago. The researchers noted that while some shells showed signs of having been cooked; “There are enough samples of late-stage eggshells that do not show burning that we can say they were hatching and not eating them,” Douglass said in a statement.

Here’s the kicker. If you manage to find cassowary nests (which is already a challenge), clucking death is waiting for you, as the father incubates them until the eggs hatch. Therefore, it would take considerable skills (and brass balls) to kill the paternal guard and harvest the eggs.

As IFLScience noted, “there are unconfirmed signs of humans forming a symbiosis with rock doves at Gibraltar 67 thousand years ago, but that aside, the work presented here represents the oldest evidence of bird farming in human history.”

As Dr Douglass summarised, “…the behaviour that we are seeing is coming thousands of years before the domestication of the chicken,” Douglass said.







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