Cassowaries have large, sharp claws located within their toes
A Florida man was fatally injured Friday by a cassowary, an emu-like animal once dubbed the “world’s most dangerous bird.”
Marvin Hajos, 75, was severely injured by the bird, which he owned, and later died at a local hospital, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Brett Rhodenizer told PEOPLE.
Rhodenizer said that a medical examiner’s report has not yet been completed and that Hajos’ birds remain on private property as of Saturday.
Alachua County Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Jeff Taylor told PEOPLE that there were two cassowaries on site and that Hajos had raised both of them.
“It appears that the gentleman who was killed raised the birds and was injured after falling in a path near the cassowary enclosure,” Taylor said. “It’s unclear whether one or both birds took part in the attack. The incident is being investigated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and our local Sheriff’s Department. Our crews worked very hard to give the victim the best chance possible at survival. Tragically, he did not survive.”
“He was doing what he loved,” a woman who said she was Hajos’ fiancée told the Gainesville Sun.
Cassowaries are large, flightless birds known for a horn-like bump on the top of their heads, distinctive bright blue necks, and jet-black feathers. They are native to New Guinea and Australia.
The birds have a 4-inch “dagger-like claw” on their inner toes that can easily slice a predator with one kick, according to the San Diego Zoo.
Despite their large size — females can weigh up to 167 pounds, and males 121 pounds — cassowaries can jump nearly 7 feet in the air, run up to 31 miles per hour, and are excellent swimmers, according to the zoo.
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A 2016 article from the Smithsonian described them as the “world’s most dangerous bird.”
“On each three-toed foot, one nail is longer than the rest,” the article explains of the cassowary’s claw. “At five inches, it’s probably the closest thing you’ll find in nature to a railway spike. It isn’t particularly sharp, but it is deadly.”
Cassowaries are listed as a Class II species under the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s captive wildlife regulations and require a permit to own.
Class II wildlife “can also pose a danger to people,” and require owners to have substantial experience and specific cage requirements.
Other animals in the same class include alligators, clouded leopards, giraffes, wolves, coyotes and jackals.