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.