Where is the Cassowary?

Posted: October 10, 2012

Name: Catherine Doyle
School: Davidson College
Major: Biological Sciences
Program: Tropical Rainforest Studies, Australia

What a trip to the Daintree! We started our adventure on a hunt to see a cassowary, a large colorful bird the size of an emu, as we ventured out of the rainforest and through the Tablelands. As we crossed the river into the Daintree Rainforest, we were surrounded once again by green luscious beauty. Always on the look lookout for cassowaries, we ventured to different rainforest types inside the Daintree.

The first stop was a boardwalk in complex mesophyll rainforest, then to the Discovery Center where we could walk up a canopy tower through each layer of the forest until we reached the top. It was amazing to be able see the canopy layers that we had learned in class and apply our knowledge. Next, we went to a mangrove rainforest where we could see the swampy atmosphere, different root systems, and the sharp transition between the different forest types. Lastly, we visited a mesophyll palm forest. Being in the palm forest was like entering a new world where anything could happen. As the sun shone through the canopy of palms I couldn’t help but wonder in amazement at the haven around me. No cassowaries were to be found.

During the trip we were working on collecting data for our socio-economics class on the effects of ecotourism in the Dainntree. Nevertheless, all we wanted to do was catch a glimpse of a cassowary. We ventured in groups to different locations to ask locals and tourist what it is like to visit and live the Dainntree area and how tourism is affecting their lives. One stop was visiting an ice cream factory that grows fruit to make their delicious ice cream. As an introvert, it was a challenge to step outside of my comfort zone and walk up to strangers and ask them about their lives, but by the end I was comfortable and had learned to be more assertive, take charge, and not be afraid to push my limits.

The highlight of the trip for me was the exotic fruit tasting. The farmer owns a self-maintaining orchard where everything in the orchard is edible (he called it a food forest). The group favorites were rollinia that tasted like lemon meringue pie with a creamy melt-in-your-mouth texture, and sousop, the juiciest tropical fruit that was sweet yet tangy. I also enjoyed yellow sapote, which tasted like cheese, and surian, the smelliest fruit on earth and the king of tropical fruit. It is an experience I will never forget.

Another highlight was the amazing beaches. The Daintree area is known as the place where the rainforest meets the reef. At Cape Tribulation I went on a run to see the beach and was struck by the beautiful mountains covered in forest colliding with the mangrove forest sinking into the ocean. The color of the ocean was sky blue and we enjoyed playing Frisbee and splashing in the tidal pools filled with mudskippers. It was a great lunch spot and place to take in the diverse fauna of the area.

We went on a riverboat cruise to see crocodiles, but many of us were still searching for cassowaries, as it was our last chance. We saw three baby crocs and one large croc, as well as many birds building nests and flying around us. We learned a lot about the plants that grow in the mangrove forest near the river and enjoyed the views of the mountains one last time.

We never found a Cassowary, but our experience was one of a lifetime! (P.S. We are still keeping our eyes peeled.)