More than 150 million years old, the Wet Tropics is not only the oldest, continually living rainforest in the world but it’s also a thriving biological hotspot, home to tens of thousands of animal species, including those found nowhere else in the world. So while it’s a treat to be able to walk among the sights, sounds, and smells of this spectacular part of the world, it’s only natural that some animals are best avoided.
Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii)
The endangered cassowary, an icon of Tropical North Queensland, is a large, flightless bird that plays a crucial role in maintaining the incredible diversity of the rainforest’s plant species. Capable of eating fruits and seeds toxic to other species, it disperses these via its droppings.
While a rare sight, if you are lucky enough to see one in the wild, be cautious, and do not feed it under any circumstances. If feeling threatened, or protective of its young, the cassowary won’t be afraid to use its powerful legs, launching itself at its threat with its razor-sharp claws. Attacks have caused fatalities in the past. If encountered, do not run. Able to reach up to speeds of 50kph, you won’t get very far. Instead back away slowly and find or hold up a barrier, such as a tree or a backpack, between yourself and the bird.
Feeding native animals is never encouraged, especially with cassowaries. This is because it may begin to associate people with food, approaching traffic or wandering through residential areas. And with road accidents one of the major causes of cassowary deaths, throwing food scraps or litter from your vehicle will only encourage this, further threatening the already endangered species.
Found throughout Australia, feral pigs were introduced by European settlers and have since become firmly established in the wild of the tropics. A pest, they cause considerable damage to national parks and while rarely seen, they are potentially very dangerous.
If you encounter one, hide behind any available cover or climb out of reach if necessary. Remove all your rubbish from national parks. Burying it won’t help as pigs will root out buried litter.
Paralysis ticks (Ixodes holocyclus)
Paralysis ticks are usually found along the eastern coastline of Australia and particularly in tropical forests after heavy rainfall. It secretes a neurotoxin in its saliva that causes a progressive, and occasionally fatal, paralysis.
The tick will often go unnoticed until weakness develops, and is then only found after a search of the body. Apply a standard repellent before venturing into tick-prone areas.
Australia is known for its large number of extremely venomous snakes, with North Queensland recording the highest number of reported snake bites. But before you start rethinking our region as a holiday destination, consider this: between 50 – 60,000 people die of a snake bite each year around the world. In Australia however, there have been only 38 deaths from snake bites during the last 23 years. That’s fewer than two a year. And this is most likely due to people trying to catch or kill a snake. Any snake encountered should be admired from afar and most snakes are shy, preferring to retreat if given the chance.