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Explained: Why Australia has declared Joe the pigeon a biosecurity risk

Why has a pigeon been declared a biosecurity risk by the Australian government? What is his story, and where did he fly in from?

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 19, 2021 10:57:32 am
Joe, a pigeon, perches on the roof of a house in Melbourne, Australia. (Channel 9 via AP, File)

A pigeon called Joe, named after US president-elect Joe Biden, was declared a biosecurity risk by Australian authorities and was facing death row last month after it was alleged he entered the country from the United States. Now, Joe may be saved after the identification tag on his leg was found not American by a US bird organisation.

Who is Joe and what has happened?

On December 26, 2020 a Melbourne resident found a pigeon in his backyard with what appeared to be a US identification band on its leg. Subsequently, this pigeon was declared to be a biosecurity risk by Australian authorities, and is currently being investigated by biosecurity officers from Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.

As per Australian media reports, the pigeon was found by Kevin Celli-Bird in an exhausted condition. Celli-Bird then claimed the bird was registered to an owner in Alabama, and was thought to be one of the pigeons that had gone missing from a pigeon race held in Oregon two months prior.

Officials then theorised the bird probably hitchhiked onboard a cargo vessel and made its way into Australia.

As the bird was still free, Australian authorities wanted to capture and euthanise the pigeon for evading quarantine rules.

This led to the creation of a petition demanding the Australian government refrain from killing the pigeon, and instead sending him back to Alabama “to reunite him with his keeper”.

Now, the American Pigeon Racing Union has said the band found on its leg is counterfeit and the pigeon is likely Australian. Pigeon Rescue Melbourne said the pigeon was wearing a “knock-off American ring that anyone could buy off Ebay”.

But why was the pigeon declared to be a biosecurity risk?

As per the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, any bird from outside the country is a biosecurity risk since it could be a carrier of disease, like avian influenza, Newcastle disease, pigeon paramyxovirus type 1 (PPMV-1) infection, avian paramyxovirus type 3 (APMV-3) infection and equine viral encephalomyelitis, among others.

“Protecting the health of Australian bird populations against potentially devastating losses to disease remains the department’s top priority in these cases. Humane destruction of the bird is the best safeguard for Australian poultry and wildlife. One reason for this is that most countries have similar restrictions to Australia and will not allow the import of birds,” the department said in a statement.

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