Mission Beach cassowary deaths spark calls for drivers to flash headlights

In most cities and towns across Australia, a flash of the headlights from an oncoming motorist usually means that police are ahead and you should watch your speed.

But in Far North Queensland, it can also be a warning that a 50-kilogram bird is waiting around the next bend.

Mission Beach is a hotspot for one of Australia’s most iconic bird species, the southern cassowary.

Although the area is known as the Cassowary Coast, it is estimated that fewer than 4,000 individuals remain in the wild.

Since 2017, at least 57 of the endangered cassowaries have been hit by vehicles on local roads and 40 of those have died.

Tully veterinarian Graham Lauridsen is often one of the first people called when a cassowary is hit by a car.

He said the true number of cassowary injuries or fatalities was likely to be higher.

Adult cassowary and chicks run across the Tully-Mission Beach Road in far north Queensland in December 2015.
Cassowaries and their chicks are a common sight on roads surrounding Mission Beach.(Supplied: Jeff Larson)

“There are certainly birds that don’t get reported as being hit or injured and that’s pretty common,” Dr Lauridsen said.

Police endorse headlight flashing

Cassowary Coast regional councillor Trudy Tschui said it was important that all road users remained vigilant about the presence of cassowaries on roads.

“We all need to be mindful, so flashing your lights [and] putting your hazard lights on are an indication a cassowary might be on the road.”

Road sign warning of cassowaries in area with an adult cassowary grazing underneath.
Cassowary conservationists in Far North Queensland are concerned for the bird’s safety.(Supplied: Liz Gallie)

Innisfail Highway Patrol Sergeant Scott Hayes said despite popular belief, flashing headlights to alert other motorists was legal.

“Personally, I do it myself because the flashing just gives people a wake-up that there could be a hazard ahead on the road,” he said.

“If it’s night-time and you’re putting your high beams on continuously then that’s a different story, but the flashing of headlights isn’t going to cause any issues.”

Sergeant Hayes said it was an offence for motorists to use their headlights to alert others to the presence of highway patrols on the road, although it was rarely enforced.

Blasé locals behind most collisions

Despite its size, the chances of a cassowary surviving a hit by a car are low.

“The injuries are normally pretty severe,” Dr Lauridsen said.

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