International

Fake US leg band gets pigeon a reprieve in Australia

In this image made from video, a racing pigeon sits on a rooftop Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Melbourne, Australia, The racing pigeon, first spotted in late Dec. 2020, appears to have made an extraordinary 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile) Pacific Ocean crossing from the United States to Australia. Experts suspect the pigeon named Joe, after the U.S. president-elect, hitched a ride on a cargo ship to cross the Pacific. (Channel 9 via AP)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A pigeon that Australia declared a biosecurity risk has received a reprieve after a U.S. bird organization declared its identifying leg band was fake.

The band suggested the bird found in a Melbourne backyard on Dec. 26 was a racing pigeon that had left the U.S. state of Oregon, 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles) away, two months earlier.

On that basis, Australian authorities on Thursday said they considered the bird a disease risk and planned to kill it.

But Deone Roberts, sport development manager for the Oklahoma-based American Racing Pigeon Union, said on Friday the band was fake.

The band number belongs to a blue bar pigeon in the United States which is not the bird pictured in Australia, she said.

“The bird band in Australia is counterfeit and not traceable,” Roberts said. “They do not need to kill him.”

Australia’s Agriculture Department, which is responsible for biosecurity, agreed that the pigeon dubbed Joe, after U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, was wearing a “fraudulent copy” leg band.

“Following an investigation, the department has concluded that Joe the Pigeon is highly likely to be Australian and does not present a biosecurity risk,” it said in a statement.

The department said it will take no further action.

Acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack had earlier said there would be no mercy if the pigeon was from the United States.

“If Joe has come in a way that has not met our strict biosecurity measures, then bad luck Joe, either fly home or face the consequences,” McCormack said.

Martin Foley, health minister for Victoria state where Joe is living, had called for the federal government to spare the bird even if it posed a disease risk.

“I would urge the Commonwealth’s quarantine officials to show a little bit of compassion,” Foley said.

Andy Meddick, a Victorian lawmaker for the minor Animal Justice Party, called for a “pigeon pardon for Joe.”

“Should the federal government allow Joe to live, I am happy to seek assurances that he is not a flight risk,” Meddick said.

Melbourne resident Kevin Celli-Bird, who found the emaciated bird in his backyard, was surprised by the change of nationality but pleased that the bird he named Joe would not be destroyed.

“I thought this is just a feel-good story and now you guys want to put this pigeon away and I thought it’s not on, you know, you can’t do that, there has got to be other options,” Celli-Bird said of the threat to euthanize.

Celli-Bird had contacted the American Racing Pigeon Union to find the bird’s owner based on the number on the leg band. The bands have both a number and a symbol, but Celli-Bird didn’t remember the symbol and said he can no longer catch the bird since it has recovered from its initial weakness.

The bird with the genuine leg band had disappeared from a 560-kilometer (350-mile) race in Oregon on Oct. 29, Crooked River Challenge owner Lucas Cramer said.

That bird did not have a racing record that would make it valuable enough to steal its identity, he said.

“That bird didn’t finish the race series, it didn’t make any money and so its worthless, really,” Cramer said.

He said it was possible a pigeon could cross the Pacific on a ship from Oregon to Australia.

“In reality, it could potentially happen, but this isn’t the same pigeon. It’s not even a racing pigeon,” Cramer said.

The bird spends every day in the backyard, sometimes with a native dove on a pergola.

“I might have to change him to Aussie Joe, but he’s just the same pigeon,” Celli-Bird said.

Lars Scott, a carer at Pigeon Rescue Melbourne, a bird welfare group, said pigeons with American leg bands were not uncommon around the city. A number of Melbourne breeders bought them online and used them for their own record keeping, Scott said.

Australian quarantine authorities are notoriously strict. In 2015, the government 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 Australia, the dogs made it out in a chartered jet.

Previous Article from The Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A racing pigeon has survived an extraordinary 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile) Pacific Ocean crossing from the United States to find a new home in Australia. Now authorities consider the bird a quarantine risk and plan to kill it.

Kevin Celli-Bird said Thursday he discovered the exhausted bird that arrived in his Melbourne backyard on Dec. 26 had disappeared from a race in the U.S. state of Oregon on Oct. 29.

Experts suspect the pigeon that Celli-Bird has named Joe, after the U.S. president-elect, hitched a ride on a cargo ship to cross the Pacific.

Joe’s feat has attracted the attention of the Australian media but also of the notoriously strict Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.

Celli-Bird said quarantine authorities 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 Agriculture Department, which is responsible for biosecurity, said the pigeon was “not permitted to remain in Australia” because it “could compromise Australia’s food security and our wild bird populations.”

“It poses a direct biosecurity risk to Australian bird life and our poultry industry,” a department statement said.

In 2015, the government 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 Australia, the dogs made it out in a chartered jet.

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.

It is claimed that 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, according to pigeonpedia.com. The distance was 11,600 kilometers (7,200 miles) and took 24 days.

There are some known instances of long-distance flights but whether these are one-offs performed by the marathon runners of the pigeon world or they are feats that could be achieved by the average pigeon is not known.

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