By Swati Pandey
SYDNEY (Reuters) - A pigeon due to be put down in Australia after apparently flying across the Pacific was spared the death sentence on Friday, after a leg tag identifying it as belonging to a U.S. bird organisation was declared a fake.
The tag suggested it had lost its way during a race in Alabama and flown more than 13,000 kilometres (8,000 miles) to Melbourne - thereby falling foul of strict quarantine regulations forbidding the importation of live animals or birds.
But as a Twitter campaign for the bird - christened Joe by its supporters - to be returned safely to America gathered pace, the American Racing Pigeon Union declared the ID band a fake.
"The pigeon found in Australia sports a counterfeit band and need not be destroyed per biosecurity measures, because his actual home is in Australia," it said in a Facebook post.
Melbourne resident Kevin Celli-Bird had found the pigeon - and its tag - in his garden on Boxing Day, according to Australian media.
"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," Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told reporters on Friday.
But, late in the day, a reprieve came from the Department of Agriculture.
"Following an investigation, the department has concluded that Joe the Pigeon is highly likely to be Australian.... No further action will be taken ... in relation to this matter."
Hollywood actor Johnny Depp and his then wife Amber Heard were charged with illegally bringing their Yorkshire terriers Pistol and Boo into Australia in 2015, but the animals were spared after their owners agreed to be bound by a good behaviour bond.
(Reporting by Swati Pandey, Renju Jose, Stefica Nicol Bikes; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and John Stonestreet)