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Australia’s ‘dinosaur’ bird, the fearsome cassowary, stares down extinction

With legs like a velociraptor and a striking neon blue neck, the southern cassowary cuts a fearsome figure in the rainforests of northeast Australia.

It is best to admire these human-sized birdies – and their rapier-sharp 10 centimetre (four inch) talons – from afar.

“It’s a modern-day dinosaur,” said Peter Rowles, the president of a community group protecting the endangered birds.

Fiercely territorial, when threatened they hiss and make a deep rumbling boom.

“When you first look at them eye to eye, that can be intimidating, because they’ve got big eyes, and they look straight at you, and they do look a bit fierce,” said Rowles.

These flightless birds are only found in Australia, New Guinea and some Pacific islands.

The Australian government lists them as endangered and estimates about 4,500 remain in the wild.

They are considered a “keystone species”, meaning they play a vital role in maintaining biodiversity and helping spread seeds in the rainforest.

If cassowaries go extinct, the rainforests will suffer.

“We thought if we could save cassowaries, we also could save enough habitat to keep a lot of other species alive,” Rowles explained.

His group is doing what it can to save these formidable birds, which stand 1.5 metres tall and can weigh up to 75kg (165 pounds).

This includes making signs urging drivers to slow down, redesigning roads to better protect native habitats, and running a cassowary hospital for injured birds.

The main threats to the cassowary are car strikes, clearing of native habitats, dog attacks and climate change.

“Cassowaries are not aggressive when they’re treated well,” said Rowles, with few recorded deaths caused by the species.

A young Australian boy was killed in 1926 after he chased the bird, who severed his