Joe the Pigeon: Australia spares bird after fake leg tag proves he’s not overseas biohazard

A pigeon threatened with being put to death – over fears it might be carrying disease – has been spared thanks to a case of mistaken identity.

The bird, named Joe after president-elect Joe Biden, was first seen, looking emaciated and weak, in a Melbourne back garden on Boxing Day wearing a blue leg band which identified him as American.

That meant he had to be euthanised as a biohazard, Australia’s quarantine service said on Thursday.

Experts believed he must have hitched a ride on a ship, rather than fly the 8,000-mile (13,000km) journey across the Pacific, but it turns out he’s probably a local after all.

Deone Roberts, sport development manager for the Oklahoma-based American Racing Pigeon Union, said on Friday that the pigeon’s leg band was fake.

The band’s number belongs to what is known as a blue bar pigeon in the US, while Joe is white and brown.

Ms Roberts said: “The bird band in Australia is counterfeit and not traceable. They do not need to kill him.”

Lars Scott, a carer at Pigeon Rescue Melbourne – a bird welfare group – agreed, saying Melbourne breeders were known to buy American leg bands online.

Australia’s Agriculture Department, which is responsible for biosecurity, confirmed Joe was wearing a “fraudulent copy” leg band and will therefore take no further action.

It said it had concluded that “Joe the Pigeon is highly likely to be Australian and does not present a biosecurity risk”.

The flap caused by Joe’s predicament had even caused feathers to fly in the corridors of power.

Acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack had earlier said there would be no mercy shown to the apparent US invader.

“If Joe has come in a way that has not met our strict biosecurity measures, then bad luck Joe, either fly home or face the consequences,” he said.

Martin Foley, health minister for Victoria state where Joe is living, had urged quarantine officials “to show a little bit of compassion”.

Andy Meddick, a Victorian lawmaker for the minor Animal Justice Party, called for a “pigeon pardon for Joe”.

“Should the federal government allow Joe to live, I am happy to seek assurances that he is not a flight risk,” he added.

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