A racing pigeon which survived an extraordinary 8,000-mile Pacific Ocean crossing from the United States to Australia after hitching a ride during a race faces being killed because it is deemed a disease risk.
The exhausted bird landed in a Melbourne garden on Boxing Day after disappearing during a race in the US state of Oregon on October 29.
Experts suspect the pigeon hitched a ride on a cargo ship to cross the Pacific.
Pigeons are an unusual sight in suburban Melbourne, so Joe - named after the US president-elect - soon attracted the attention of Kevin Celli-Bird, in whose garden it landed.
But Joe has also attracted the attention of the notoriously strict Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service which said the illegal immigrant is “not permitted to remain in Australia” because it “could compromise Australia’s food security and our wild bird populations”.
The aptly named Mr Celli-Bird said quarantine authorities called him on Thursday to ask him to catch the bird.
“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 500 millimetres 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 "poses a direct biosecurity risk to Australian bird life and our poultry industry,” a department statement said.
In 2015, the government threatened to euthanise 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 deadline to leave Australia, the dogs made it out in a chartered jet.
It poses a direct biosecurity risk to Australian bird life and our poultry industry
“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,” Mr 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.
Mr 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.
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
Mr 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 garden, sometimes sitting next to a native dove on a pergola. Mr Celli-Bird has been feeding it pigeon food.
“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.
Mr 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 AQIS and those sort of people would give their wholehearted support for the idea,” Mr Turner said, referring to the quarantine service.