Florida cassowary bird attack, kills its fallen owner in Florida

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Florida cassowary bird attack, kills its fallen owner in Florida.

A cassowary, a large emu-like flightless bird, killed a man Friday near Alachua.

Alachua County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Brett Rhodenizer identified the man as 75-year-old Marvin Hajos. He was the owner of the bird and the farm where the attack occurred.

Rhodenizer said the Sheriff’s Office has begun a death investigation.

“Initial information indicates that this was a tragic accident for Mr. Hajos and his family,” Rhodenizer said in an email.

“The cassowary involved remains secured on private property at this time.”

A woman at the property off Alachua County Road 235 south of Alachua said the man was her fiance and that they had been together about 20 years.

“He was doing what he loved,” she said, adding that she did not want to talk anymore.

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Cassowaries are native to New Guinea and parts of Australia, and are known to attack people and animals if they feel threatened.

“The cassowary is rightfully considered the most dangerous bird in the world! Each 3-toed foot has a dagger-like claw on the inner toe that is up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) long,” is how the San Diego Zoo’s website describes them. “The cassowary can slice open any predator or potential threat with a single swift kick. Powerful legs help the cassowary run up to 31 miles per hour (50 kilometers per hour) through the dense forest underbrush.”

Hajos was taken to UF Health Shands Hospital under a trauma alert and apparently died there, said Alachua County Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Jeff Taylor. He said the call came in around 10 a.m. Friday.

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“It looks like it was accidental. My understanding is that the gentleman was in the vicinity of the bird and at some point fell. When he fell, he was attacked,” Taylor said.

A cassowary, with the characteristic jet black body and distinctive bright blue neck and head feathers, could be seen on the property Saturday. A much smaller exotic bird roamed near the front gate.

The Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were notified of the incident Friday.

“We got a call from a former employee about it — that’s how we found out about,” said FWC regional spokeswoman Karen Parker on Saturday. “I was told last night that (the man killed) was breeding them. I got notification that a cassowary had killed somebody.”

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FWC lists the cassowary as Class II wildlife that “can also pose a danger to people. Substantial experience and specific cage requirements must be met.”

Permits are required for public exhibition, sale or personal possession of Class II wildlife. FWC does not regulate breeding of cassowaries, Parker said.

Cassowaries are still part of the diet in New Guinea, but unlike ostriches, they do not appear to be bred in the U.S. for their meat.

Instead, they are likely sought by hobbyists who want an exotic bird for their property. Peacocks, for example, can occasionally be seen — and more often heard — in rural areas of Alachua County.

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