Dangerous Nature?

Wild Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) Male eating figs, Australia

I am often asked - at lectures and in interviews - what is the most dangerous thing I have ever encountered in nature. Frankly, I hate that question, first because of its inherent sensationalism, but also because it is so misplaced: I have very little to fear from the wild animals with which I spend time - and far more from my own species. The truth is, the most dangerous thing I do is probably drive to and from the airport.

Still, when I first started my project on wild Cassowaries in Australia, I was told by a lot of people that I was crazy.  These are, the story goes, the "most dangerous birds in the world," capable of disemboweling their enemies with a powerful swipe of their dinosaur-like feet. (think the velociraptors in Jurassic Park).  Yet, despite their fearsome reputation, Cassowaries are only known to have killed one human - a teenage boy (some 50 years ago) who had cornered the bird and was beating it with a stick.  (I'm not sure the kid didn't get what he deserved)

I have always resented the media obsession with the supposed dangers found in nature. (Just look at much of the programming on the Discovery Channel - "Shark Week", "Fangs", "World's Most Dangerous blah-blah-blah.")  In my view, this kind of attitude does a disservice to wildlife, and to the TV audience.

Having spent almost a month in the company of these striking birds, which stand 5 feet tall and bear a hard, horny crest, I have found them to be gentle creatures and attentive parents. Yes, it still makes my heart race to stand within a few inches of one, but I have never really felt threatened.

In the picture above, I captured this adult male stripping wild figs off a rainforest tree.  Following these birds birds through the underbrush, I often worked within a few feet, shooting handheld, trying to minimize my disturbance of their natural behavior.  I hope to be back in Australia later this year to record the emergence of young Cassowary chicks, documenting the life history of these birds for the first time.

Nikon D3, 17-35mm lens, fill-flash.

6 Comments

    I too find I would rather be with what some call dangerous critters then with humans. At least they are more predictable. You can always tell when you disturb them to much and they go on alert. There are dangers with any animal domectic or not. I’m sure not going to walk between a mother bear and her cubs or go swimming with sharks but these are dangers you know in advance not to do.

    Hi Vivian, It’s true – there are some animals that should be avoided – but by and large, knowledge of your subjects and a respectful attitude is worth a lot. Thanks for your comments.

    If you asked David Doubilet or Paul Spielvogel, they’d probably tell you that sharks don’t deserve their nasty reputation, either. And of course there are bear photographers as well. Like Kevin said, a little knowledge is often more protection than you need.

    Thanks for commenting Jeff. There are clearly animals that require some respect – and research – but even animals like sharks and bears kill vastly fewer people than drunk drivers. In other words, the odds are better with animals.

    I couldn’t agree more although there must always be caution. Next month I am doing a camping trip in Botswana and we will be out in the open amongst lions, hyaenas, and the rest. Believe me, we will be VERY careful!

    Kevin’s comments on the damage being done by TV are spot on. We all know the damage done to sharks by the jaws movie. The author has even apologised for it and admitted he would not have written the book had he known what would follow. And yet, Discovery and especially Nat Geo Wild continue to pump it out! The presenters of those shows should hang their heads in deep shame.

    Thanks for the comment Jake. My point was not that all animals are benign – far from it – but simply that, as you say, the dangers that do exist are blown far out of proportion. Be safe in Botswana : lucky man.

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