Sanctuary Asia Preview: Meet the Cassowaries

Sanctuary Asia, opening soon at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, will create a vast, multipurpose environment where endangered animals from the Asian continent can thrive while receiving world-class zoological animal care. Prior to the opening, we will periodically preview a new species or feature coming to the habitat. First up: the cassowary!

Native to New Guinea and parts of northeastern Australia, cassowaries are large, flightless birds related to emus and ostriches that can grow to five-and-a-half feet tall, weighing up to 128 pounds. They are the second heaviest bird species in the world, just behind its cousin, the ostrich. Females are taller and heavier than males, and display brighter colors than males. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums reports that the median life expectancy for cassowaries is 26 years.

A cassowary’s call is low and booming, the lowest of any known bird species and barely within the spectrum of human hearing. To communicate, they also hiss and whistle; clap their bills or rumble threateningly. A large dagger-like claw on their inner toe, which can grow to be up to four inches long, allows the bird to subdue a potential threat with a swift single kick.

Cassowary’s eat fruit whole, digesting the pulp and passing the seeds unharmed in large piles of dung, distributing them over large areas throughout the rainforest.  Some seeds even require the cassowary digestive tract process to help them germinate. This makes them an essential part of their ecosystem.

In addition to cassowaries, Sanctuary Asia will be home to red pandas, Asian rhinos, langurs, Komodo dragons, raccoon dogs and cranes. It will also add 3.5 acres to the Asian elephant herd’s existing 4.5-acre habitat. A major feature of the new habitat will be a two-story building with vast windows seamlessly uniting animal habitats to create a highly visual and memorable experience. The views will include the elephant, rhino and Komodo dragon habitats.

Sanctuary Asia will provide daily food service and a facility designed for after-hours special events. A water zone will give children a splash area to experience in the summer. The landscape design will include plantings native to Oklahoma, but will resemble lush Asian themes. Funding for the 6.6-acre expansion was secured through the Zoo’s 1/8-of-a-cent sales tax accrual, approved by Oklahoma City citizens in 1990. The $22 million project was outlined as Phase II in the Zoo’s master plan in 2010.

Stay tuned for more information about Sanctuary Asia and the species that will inhabit the new habitat.

Photo from Summerdrought (Creative Commons)

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