Outside Magazine recently published a funny-but-also-deadly-serious listicle of the Ten Worst Ways to Die in the Wild. There are some pretty greusome demises to be had in the roundup, but death by cassowary is far and away the worst fate on the list.
For the uninitiated, the cassowary is a behemoth of the bird world (second-heaviest, behind the ostritch) with a face perpetually frozen in an expression resembling that of a frat bro who just challenged you to a bar fight. A bar fight for your life:
They can grow to over six and a half feet tall, weigh well over 100 pounds, and gallop around at speeds of over thirty miles per hour – an impressive biomechanical feat for a creature with legs that might best be described as "death-cudgels with knives attached." Seriously, look at this thing. You see its feet? The middle toe on each one features a dagger-like claw that can grow up to five-inches long. And, in case you forgot what it looks like, have another look at its face. I SAID LOOK AT IT:
Is that image now permanently seared into your brain? Good. You are now prepared to read how Outside imagines death-by-Cassowary might play out in the wild. May you never find yourself in such a position, knowing what you now know*:
Twilight falls on northeastern Australia. Beer in hand and with the warm glow of the campfire illuminating the surrounding foliage, you spot a dart of blue through the green and hear a low-pitched boom—too deep to be a bird, too high to be thunder.
Curious and a bit tipsy, you venture forth to explore. Meeting you eye-to-eye is a 6-foot-tall, 129-pound bird. Your eyes quickly scan the beast but miss the 5-inch dagger-like claw on its middle toe. The bird looks tame, but it has repeatedly been fed by people and is now expecting the same from you.
You know not to feed the wildlife, but you toss a beer can its way. When the bird doesn't move, you move forward and make a fake charge for the (drunken) hell of it. The creature cocks its head and you think it’s finally going for the brew. But instead it lunges toward you. Suddenly, you're one of the 221 recorded victims of a cassowary attack. You laugh and turn to run, thinking the modern-day velociraptor will be easily distanced. You’re wrong. The cassowary tops out at 31 mph and easily keeps pace with your drunken amble.
The bird kicks and you stumble across a log. In a flash, it leaps nearly five feet into the air, landing beside your neck. You cover your face in fear as the cassowary nears. With one powerful kick, it opens a half-inch gash, nicking your carotid artery.
Hearing your screams, a nearby camper comes to your aid, shooing off the bird. Within seconds of his arrival and eight minutes after the gash was formed, you slip into unconsciousness. The camper tries to staunch the flow of blood, but it’s no use. You're the second person since 1926 to die by cassowary.
*NB: Cassowaries are actually notoriously shy creatures (it's the ones habituated to human contact that are dangerous), but that doesn't make them any less deserving of your respect.