16 Jan 2021

A grim end awaits a Pacific-crossing pigeon

10:33 am on 16 January 2021

A pigeon that travelled across the Pacific Ocean is to be put down after running afoul of Australia's strict quarantine rules.

close up face of male speed racing pigeon against green blur background

Authorities suspect that the pigeon hitchhiked on board a cargo vessel from the US to Australia. Photo: 123RF

The bird reportedly went missing during a race in the US state of Oregon in late October, before turning up in Melbourne almost two months later.

But officials say the pigeon, which has been named Joe, poses a "direct biosecurity risk" to Australia's bird population and poultry industry.

The bird will be caught and euthanised.

Melbourne resident Kevin Celli-Bird says he found the pigeon in his back garden on Boxing Day.

"He was pretty emaciated so I crushed up a dry biscuit and left it out there for him," he told the AP news agency.

Some internet research led Celli-Bird to discover that the bird, which is registered to an owner in Alabama, was last seen during a pigeon race in the western US state of Oregon.

But after news of Joe's appearance made headlines in Australia, Celli-Bird was contacted by officials concerned about the threat of infection.

The pigeon has not yet been caught, but the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment says it will have to be put down 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."

It is unclear how the bird managed to make the 12,800km journey from the west coast of the US to southern Australia, but officials believe he is likely to have hitchhiked on board a cargo vessel.

While it is possible to legally bring pigeons into Australia, the process is difficult and can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and none have been legally imported from the US in over a decade.

Joe the pigeon is not the first animal to face trouble from Australia's strict animal import laws.

Actors Johnny Depp and his then-wife Amber Heard had to issue a video apology after illegally bringing their dogs, Pistol and Boo, into the country on their private jet in 2015.

In 2016 Heard was handed a one-month good behaviour bond, with no conviction recorded, for smuggling the dogs into Australia while visiting Depp.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard arrive at a court on the Gold Coast.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard arrive at a court on the Gold Coast. Photo: AFP