A carrier pigeon that has survived a grueling two-month journey of 8,000 miles across the Pacific from the United States to Australia is now being killed for fear of carrying Covid.
The bird went missing during a race in Oregon on October 29 last year, before being discovered emaciated and exhausted in a Melbourne garden on December 26. Experts said he likely stopped a trip across the ocean on a cargo ship.
Kevin Celli-Bird said he caught the pigeon he named Joe after President-elect Joe Biden and nursed it back to health on pieces of dry biscuit.
But when the story reached local media, Celli-Bird received a call from quarantine officers ordering him to catch the bird a second time so they could kill it.
A carrier pigeon (pictured) that survived an epic two-month 8,000-mile journey from Oregon to Australia after hitching up a ride on a cargo ship is killed by border guards
Officials plan to kill the bird, nicknamed Joe, fearing it may carry Covid and the "threat" it poses to local wildlife
"They say if it comes from America they are worried about avian diseases," he said.
They wanted to know if I could help them. I said, "To be honest, I can't catch it. I can get within 500mm of it and then it moves."
He said quarantine authorities are now considering hiring a professional bird catcher.
The Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for biosecurity, said the pigeon should "not be allowed to stay in Australia" because it "could endanger the food security of Australia and our wild bird populations".
"It poses a direct biosecurity risk to Australian bird life and our poultry industry," the department said in a statement.
This is hardly the first time Australia's agricultural officials have made headlines by threatening to kill animals.
In 2015, the government threatened to euthanize two Yorkshire terriers owned by Johnny Depp and his then-wife Amber Heard, Pistol and Boo after they were smuggled into the country.
Given 50 hours notice, the dogs made it on a chartered jet.
Pigeons are an uncommon sight in Celli-Bird's backyard in the Officer suburb, where Australian native pigeons are far more common.
& # 39; It rocked for us on Boxing Day. I have a well in the back yard and he had a drink and washed. He was pretty emaciated, so I chopped up a dry biscuit and left it outside for him, ”Celli-Bird said.
& # 39; The next day he was rocking again by our water feature so I went out to look at him because he was pretty weak and he didn't seem scared of me and I saw that he had a blue ribbon on his leg would have. Obviously it belongs to someone so I managed to catch it, ”he added.
Celli-Bird, who says he has no interest in birds "other than my surname," said he could no longer catch the pigeon with his bare hands because it had regained its strength.
He said the Oklahoma-based American Racing Pigeon Union has confirmed that Joe is registered with an owner in Montgomery, Alabama.
Kevin Celli-Bird, who nursed Joe back to health after arriving in Australia, says it will now be difficult to catch the bird after it has regained "full vigor".
Celli-Bird said he tried to contact the owner but has not yet got through.
The bird spends every day in the back yard and sometimes sits side by side with a local pigeon on a pergola. Celli-Bird fed it pigeon feed within a few days of its arrival.
"I think he just decided that since I gave him something to eat and he has a place to drink, that is home," he said.
Brad Turner, secretary of the Australian National Pigeon Association, said he had heard of cases of Chinese carrier pigeons reaching Australia's west coast aboard cargo ships, a far shorter journey.
Turner said there were real fears that pigeons from the United States could transmit exotic diseases and he agreed that Joe should be destroyed.
"While it sounds harsh to normal people – they would hear this and say, 'This is cruel' and everything else – I think you would find that AQIS and these types of people would wholeheartedly support the idea," said Turner, referring to the quarantine service.
It is claimed that the largest long-haul flight recorded by a pigeon, according to pigeonpedia.com, began in Arras, France, and ended in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1931. The distance was 11,600 kilometers and took 24 days.
A few cases of long-haul flights are known, but it is not known whether these are one-off flights by the marathon runners of the pigeon world or a performance that could be achieved by an average pigeon.
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