KARACHI, June 21: One of the two surviving female cassowaries at the Karachi Zoological Gardens after the death of their mates years back has also died, it emerged on Thursday.
With the latest loss, the lone large flightless bird has become one of those species that have no breeding partner at the zoo.
These animals include a female black bear, a female leopard, a female Shetland pony, a male zebra, a male hyena, a male lion, a male python and a male langur, besides two female elephants and two male Bengal tigers.
“The cassowary was found to be suffering from liver infection in a post-mortem examination,” said senior vet Dr Kazim Hussain who currently heads the zoo.
He added that she had lost her appetite for the past some days and died a couple of days ago.
However, he said, “You can’t say it’s a big loss. Both the female cassowaries have been kept in good shape for more than two decades. Unfortunately, their mates died early, else they could have bred.”
“Their two pairs were imported, most probably from Europe, in the 1990s. Both male species had an early death,” he said.
Dr Hussain added that efforts were under way to bring mates for all the animals left unpaired over the years.
Both the cassowaries used to lay 10 eggs annually, he said, adding that the eggs were infertile since the birds didn’t have a mate. “We provided medical support to the animal after it lost its appetite, but she couldn’t survive. The zoo needs medical equipment, particularly portable X-ray and ultrasound machines for prompt diagnosis, which we are planning to purchase during the coming financial year,” he explained.
Only the Karachi zoo had the distinction of keeping cassowary species, he said, as none of the zoos in the country had one.
About the animal’s nature, feed and habitat, he said that there were three species of cassowary and all of them were native to the tropical forests on New Guinea and northeastern Australia. The species at the zoo were the southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) also known as double-wattled cassowary or Australian cassowary.
“It is a ratite (diverse group of large flightless birds of Gondwanan origin most of them are now extinct) and therefore related to the emu and ostrich family. The southern cassowary is the largest of the three species and is actually the third largest bird in the world, being only smaller than the ostrich and the emu,” he said.
According to him, the birds eat all seasonal fruit and are very aggressive in nature. “Their hard, pointed spines under their wings are easy to notice when they are in a threatening posture. Their feet are strong, too, and a kick could prove fatal.
“The cassowary is described as one of the most difficult animals to keep in a zoo and keepers are advised not to enter their enclosure without guidance and training,” he said.
It is worth noting here that the Red Data List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) mentions the southern cassowary and the northern cassowary as vulnerable species, whereas dwarf cassowary as near threatened species.