On October 29 of last year a racing pigeon escaped a competition in Oregon. Nearly two months later, that same pigeon ended up in the backyard of Kevin Celli-Bird, who doesn’t live in Oregon, or the United States even, but rather 8,000 miles and an ocean away in Melbourne, Australia.
The pigeon’s trans-pacific journey is no doubt an impressive feat, but it also isn’t going to be earning him any awards. In fact, quite the opposite. Australian authorities are now planning to kill the bird out of fear that it could pose a biothreat to the country’s domestic bird population.
Celli-Bird (fitting name) found the pigeon—who he named Joe after president-elect Joe Biden—drinking in a small fountain in his backyard garden. While authorities are still puzzled on how Joe actually managed to make it across an entire ocean, one plausible theory is that it hitched a ride on a cargo ship.
“He was very, very, emaciated,” Celli-Bird told 7News Australia. “I crushed up some biscuits, gave it some dry biscuits, and then we went on our way. The next day he was back.”
The morning after, Celli-Bird spotted a small blue tag on Joe’s leg, and, after looking up the registration number, discovered that the bird was registered to an owner in Montgomery, Alabama. He reportedly reached out to Joe’s owner to no avail.
Joe has continued to reside in Celli-Bird’s backyard, but the significant media attention has also tipped off Australia’s Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS). The agency is famously uncompromising when it comes to non-local animals and fauna. In 2015, the agency threatened to kill actor Johnny Depp’s two dogs after smuggling them into the country. He and his ex-wife Amber Heard were later forced to release an official apology video.
AQIS asked Celli-Bird to catch Joe, but the pigeon doesn’t seem to be cooperating.
“They say if it is from America, then they’re concerned about bird diseases,” Celli-Bird told AP News. “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 (20 inches) of it and then it moves.’”
While killing Joe may seem needlessly cruel at first glance, Australia has so far mostly managed to avoid a number of highly infectious animal diseases. If one was to enter and spread within the country, it could mean the deaths of hundreds or even thousands of other animals. Last summer, 300,000 hens were culled in the country after a strain of bird flu was discovered in the Southeastern state of Victoria.
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