A SLOGGY walk through the Daintree rain forest is an instant education in how unique and vital it is. It is widely regarded as the oldest continuously surviving rain forest.
More than 110 million years ago, the Daintree escaped smothering volcanic ash, so species remained, giving it a high diversity of animal life.
The Daintree is home to 60 percent of Australia's bat species. Of 19 primitive flowering plants in the world, 13 are here. It has some of the slowest-growing species in the world, including the fan palm, and some of the oldest, including cycads and the King fern, estimated to be 240 million years old.
In its tangled canopies can be found animals not seen anywhere else: the Daintree River ring-tail possum, Bennett's tree kangaroo, and the red-eyed tree frog. The cassowary, a bird with a brilliant blue neck and head, not only is beautiful, but 180 plant species also depend on it.
"If we lose the bird, we lose the species relying on it," says Andrew Small, manager of the Daintree Rainforest Environmental Centre. "It's a pyramid. While it's protected, [the cassowary] is still shot, and dogs eat the eggs. One third of the island species are gone."