AUSTRALIA’S NEW GENETIC FRONTIER
By Dr. Colin Walker
From a pigeon point of view, Australia was genetically isolated from the rest of the world from 1956 until 1989. This was because of the import ban on all birds. This meant that the Australian pigeon gene pool remained essentially unaltered (apart from a few illegal imports) for over 30 years. The pigeons that were in Australia at this time reflected the migration pattern into Australia prior to 1956 and so the breeds present essentially originated from the UK and western Europe. Many pigeon fanciers in Australia throughout this time, although very familiar with these breeds and colour varieties within them, were largely unfamiliar with the types of pigeon found in other parts of the world.
Through the ages, pigeon breeding has occurred in many parts of the world and because of the difficulty of travel in earlier times often this has occurred in relative isolation. Desirable mutations that appeared in these discrete populations of pigeons were selected for and through time stabilized into breeds. Many of these genetic characteristics were totally unfamiliar to the Australian fancy pigeon scene. Australian fanciers had essentially been cocooned for over 35 years, breeding from birds that for the most part originated from the UK and western Europe. The situation has now changed.
Since the 1970s, with Australia’s broadening immigration policy and the relaxation of the import ban, Australia now finds itself in the fortunate situation of having citizens who have an awareness and familiarity with breeds exotic to Australia from many parts of the world and also the ability to import them. As a result, many new and wonderful breeds have appeared, including the German Beauty Homer, Nuremburg Lark, Komoner Tumbler and Rshev Tumbler, etc, etc. But for me, the real treasure trove of new genetic material is that found in the Middle East. Here the breeding of colour and performing pigeons was popular and established well before the Christian era and because it occurred in relative isolation from Europe, many different breeds, many with genetic characteristics not found in European breeds, appeared. Many of these breeds don’t have English names and we simply don’t have English terms to describe the colours many occur in.
In earlier times, only a few of the breeds developed in the Middle East ever reached the West. Along the way, their original names were given an English version, eg Scandaroon, Oriental Frill. Since 1989, however, many breeds and new colours within breeds that originated in the Middle East have appeared in Australia including the Damascene, the Egyptian and Syrian Swifts, Dewlaps, and Lebanons.
If one visits various Syrian, Turkish or Lebanese web sites, however, one can see that these are just the tip of the iceberg. One particularly interesting new breed, which most fanciers will not be familiar with is the Syrian Tarbesh. This amazing bird is not only black but iridescent black (similar to the black of an Archangel’s wing) all over. It has 14-23 tail feathers. These characteristics are perhaps not so unusual but the bird has deep green eyes and a pair of crests, one on each side of its head. Each crest originates just behind the cere, runs just above the eye (like an exaggerated eyebrow) and stops on the back of the head. The crest feathers curve in so that it is possible for a good specimen to hold a cigarette or biro on the top of its head. Also, the crest does not appear until the first moult at 4 – 5 months. All of the youngsters are smooth-headed. No European crested breed has an acquired crest; all have their crests always present. This breed is likely to be exhibited in Australia for the first time at the National in 2007.
I am sure the next few years will be a particularly exciting time for Australian fanciers as breeds such as the Syrian Tarbesh and others appear and become established in Australia.