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Australia plans to kill pigeon that survived 8,000-mile journey from Oregon

A racing pigeon which survived a gruelling 8,000-mile, two-month journey across the Pacific from the US to Australia will now be killed over fears it is carrying Covid.

The bird went missing during a race in Oregon on October 29 last year before being discovered emaciated and exhausted in a garden in Melbourne on December 26 – with experts saying it likely hitched a ride across the ocean on a cargo ship.

Kevin Celli-Bird said he caught the pigeon, which he has nicknamed Joe after President-elect Joe Biden, and nursed it back to health on pieces of  dry biscuit.

But when the story hit local media, Celli-Bird said he received a call from quarantine authorities ordering him to catch the bird a second time so they can kill it. 

A racing pigeon (pictured) that survived an epic 8,000-mile, two-month journey from Oregon to Australia after hitching a ride on a cargo ship will be killed by border officials

A racing pigeon (pictured) that survived an epic 8,000-mile, two-month journey from Oregon to Australia after hitching a ride on a cargo ship will be killed by border officials

A racing pigeon (pictured) that survived an epic 8,000-mile, two-month journey from Oregon to Australia after hitching a ride on a cargo ship will be killed by border officials

Officials plan to kill the bird, which has been nicknamed Joe, over fears it could be carrying Covid and the 'threat' it poses to native wildlife

Officials plan to kill the bird, which has been nicknamed Joe, over fears it could be carrying Covid and the 'threat' it poses to native wildlife

 Officials plan to kill the bird, which has been nicknamed Joe, over fears it could be carrying Covid and the ‘threat’ it poses to native wildlife

‘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 500mm (20ins) 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.

This is hardly the first time that Australia’s officious agriculture 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.

Faced with a 50-hour deadline to leave, 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.

Kevin Celli-Bird, who nursed Joe back to health after his arrival in Australia, says it will now be difficult to catch the bird after he regained 'full strength'

Kevin Celli-Bird, who nursed Joe back to health after his arrival in Australia, says it will now be difficult to catch the bird after he regained 'full strength'

 Kevin Celli-Bird, who nursed Joe back to health after his arrival in Australia, says it will now be difficult to catch the bird after he regained ‘full strength’

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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