‘Fake’ US leg band may get pigeon a reprieve in Australia

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – A pigeon that Australia has declared a biosecurity risk may be granted a stay after a US bird organization says its identification leg ring is fake.

The group suggested that the bird found in a Melbourne backyard on December 26 was a carrier pigeon that had left the US state of Oregon, 3,000 kilometers (8,000 miles), two months earlier.

Based on this, Australian authorities said on Thursday they considered the bird a disease risk and planned to kill it.

But Deone Roberts, sports development manager for Oklahoma-based American Racing Pigeon Union, said the group was bogus.

The band number belongs to a blue bar pigeon in the United States and it is not the bird pictured in Australia, she said.

“The bird strip in Australia is counterfeit and untraceable,” Roberts said. “He definitely has a home in Australia and not in the United States”

“Someone has to look at this group and then understand that the bird is not from the United States. They don’t need to kill him, ”she added.

Counterfeiting of bird rings “is happening more and more,” said Roberts. “People who come into the hobby buy without knowing it.”

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Pigeon racing has seen a resurgence in popularity and some birds have become very valuable. A fan of Chinese pigeon fanciers offered a record price of 1.6 million euros ($ 1.9 million) in November for a Belgian-bred pigeon.

The Australian Department of Agriculture did not immediately say on Friday whether the fake leg band had changed its plans to kill the bird.

The department said on Thursday the pigeon was “not allowed to stay in Australia” because it “could jeopardize Australia’s food security and our wild bird populations.”

“This poses a direct biosecurity risk to Australian birds and our poultry industry,” a ministry statement said.

Melbourne resident Kevin Celli-Bird, who found the emaciated bird and contacted the American Racing Pigeon Union to find its owner, was surprised by the development. He was also happy that the bird he named Joe, named after the President-elect of the United States, was not destroyed.

“Yeah, I’m happy about that,” Celli-Bird said, referring to the news that Joe is probably not a biosecurity threat.

The bird spends every day in the yard, sometimes with a native dove on a pergola. Celli-Bird gives him pigeon food a few days after his arrival. “I think he just decided that since I gave him food and he has a place to drink, it’s at home,” he says.

Australian quarantine authorities are notoriously strict. In 2015, the government threatened to euthanize two Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, after they were smuggled into the country by Hollywood star Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard.

Faced with a 50-hour delay to leave Australia, the dogs made it out on a chartered plane.

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