A racing pigeon that traveled 8,000-miles across the Pacific Ocean from the United States to find a new home in Australia is now facing imminent death after Australian authorities say they consider the bird a quarantine risk and plan to kill it, AP reported.
The bird disappeared from Oregon during a race on October 29, before showing up in Melbourne late December.
Kevin Celli-Bird from Australia said he discovered the exhausted bird that arrived in his Melbourne backyard on December 26 had disappeared from a race in the U.S. state of Oregon on Oct. 29. He named the Pigeon Joe – after the U.S. president-elect.
It is unclear how the bird traveled thousands of miles all the way from the west coast of the United States to southern Australia, but experts suspect the pigeon hitched a ride on a cargo ship to cross the Pacific.
Joe’s 8,000 mile journey has now attracted the attention of the Australian media but also of the notoriously strict Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.
Celli-Bird said quarantine officials called him on Thursday to ask him to catch the bird.
“They say if it is from America, then they’re concerned about bird diseases,” he said. “They wanted to know if I could help them out. I said, ‘To be honest, I can’t catch it. I can get within 500 mil (millimeters or 20 inches) of it and then it moves.'”
He said quarantine authorities were now considering contracting a professional bird catcher.
The pigeon has not yet been caught, but Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment says it will have to be killed because of the danger of infection to local birds.
“Regardless of its origin, any domesticated bird that has not met import health status and testing requirements is not permitted to remain in Australia,” a department spokesperson said in a statement.
“The only possible outcome to manage the biosecurity risk is humane destruction of the bird.”
Joe the pigeon is not the first animal to face trouble in Australia due to the country’s strict animal import laws, BBC reported.
In 2015, Australian authorities threatened to euthanize two Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, after they were smuggled into the country by Hollywood star Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard.
Faced with a 50-hour deadline to leave the country, the dogs made it out in a chartered jet out of Australia.
Pigeons are an unusual sight in Celli-Bird’s backyard in suburban Officer, where Australian native doves are far more common.
“It rocked up at our place on Boxing Day. I’ve got a fountain in the backyard and it was having a drink and a wash. He was pretty emaciated so I crushed up a dry biscuit and left it out there for him,” Celli-Bird said.
“Next day, he rocked back up at our water feature, so I wandered out to have a look at him because he was fairly weak and he didn’t seem that afraid of me and I saw he had a blue band on his leg. Obviously he belongs to someone, so I managed to catch him,” he added.
Celli-Bird, who says he has no interest in birds “apart from my last name,” said he could no longer catch the pigeon with his bare hands since it had regained its strength.
He said the Oklahoma-based American Racing Pigeon Union had confirmed that Joe was registered to an owner in Montgomery, Alabama.
Celli-Bird said he had attempted to contact the owner, but had so far been unable to get through.
The bird spends every day in the backyard, sometimes sitting side-by-side with a native dove on a pergola. Celli-Bird has been feeding it pigeon food from within days of its arrival.
“I think that he just decided that since I’ve given him some food and he’s got a spot to drink, that’s home,” he said.
Australian National Pigeon Association secretary Brad Turner said he had heard of cases of Chinese racing pigeons reaching the Australian west coast aboard cargo ships, a far shorter voyage.
Turner said there were genuine fears pigeons from the United States could carry exotic diseases and he agreed Joe should be destroyed.
“While it sounds harsh to the normal person — they’d hear that and go: ‘this is cruel,’ and everything else — I’d think you’d find that A.Q.I.S. and those sort of people would give their wholehearted support for the idea,” Turner said, referring to the quarantine service.
According to pigeonpedia.com, the greatest long-distance flight recorded by a pigeon is one that started at Arras in France and ended in Saigon, Vietnam, back in 1931, The distance was 11,600 kilometers (7,200 miles) and took 24 days, AP reported.
The bird is likely to be Australian and its blue racing band, indicating it came from the U.S., is fake, Australia’s Department of Agriculture later said.
“Following an investigation, the department has concluded that Joe the Pigeon is highly likely to be Australian and does not present a biosecurity risk,” the department said in a statement Friday.
“What a relief to know that Joe the Pigeon found in Australia does not wear a genuine [racing] band,” the American Pigeon Racing Union said in a statement on Facebook.
“The pigeon found in Australia sports a counterfeit band and need not be destroyed per biosecurity measures, because his actual home is in Australia,” the statement added. “It is a disappointment that false information spreads so quickly, but we are appreciative that the real pigeon did not stray from the U.S.”