Alpaca owners call for talks with Government over Geronimo

Geronimo has twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis is set to be euthanised.

Alpaca owners call for talks with Government over Geronimo SWNS via SWNS
Geronimo has twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis.

Alpaca owners are calling for urgent talks with the Government as the life of Geronimo hangs in the balance.

Geronimo has twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis and the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has ordered he be euthanised.

His owner, Helen Macdonald, who imported him from New Zealand, believes the tests are returning false positives but has been refused permission to have him tested a third time.

Last week, Ms Macdonald lost her final appeal to save her beloved pet at the High Court in London and now a warrant has been signed for his destruction.

She has received an outpouring of support from the public, with more than 100,000 people signing a petition calling on Boris Johnson to halt the killing.

The British Alpaca Society said the current stand-off between Defra and Ms Macdonald has “considerably undermined confidence” in the voluntary bovine TB testing regime in the UK.

In a statement, Duncan Pullar, chief executive of the society, said: “The unique circumstances that have developed relating to Geronimo clearly show the testing system is not working as well as it should, and it is a matter of concern that Defra do not appear to want to learn from what is going on.

“Defra will not allow further testing on Geronimo. There is no science to explain the effects of multiple priming on the outcomes of the Enferplex test in alpacas and no research has been carried out.

“Four years on from the tests Geronimo is healthy, as are the alpacas which have been sharing his paddock, and indeed the alpacas that travelled from New Zealand with Geronimo on the same or contiguous crates.

“The British Alpaca Society is concerned that George Eustice is not being properly briefed.

“The skin test he downplays is also used in the UK on alpacas and cattle, and is approved by the UK Government who recognise an 80% sensitivity.”

The society highlighted concerns to Defra about the potential adverse effects of multiple priming before an Enferplex test in alpacas in 2016 and again specifically in Geronimo’s case in March 2018.

“To date, no evidence has been produced to explain the effects of this practice on test results,” Mr Pullar said.

“We endorse the request for a further test of Geronimo. To date, such requests have been declined by Defra.

“Alpaca breeders and owners would welcome the opportunity to learn from Geronimo and cannot understand why the Government would not wish to do so as well.”

On Monday, the Government insisted all the evidence on the animal’s condition had been “looked at very carefully”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We know how distressing losing animals to TB is for anyone. That is why the Environment Secretary has looked at this extremely carefully and interrogated all the evidence.

“The fact remains that Geronimo has sadly tested positive twice using a highly specific and reliable and validated test.

“This is something the Environment Secretary has looked at very carefully.”

On Monday, around 30 people – including fellow alpaca farmers who had lost animals in similar circumstances – gathered outside Defra’s headquarters in Smith Square, Westminster, to march to Downing Street.

Speaking from her farm in South Gloucestershire, Ms Macdonald criticised the Government for refusing to change its mind.

“Unfortunately they are still misquoting data,” she said.

“What they did to Geronimo was not a validated test – they knew what they were doing.

“We are just asking to have him tested with something appropriate. I get they have policy to follow but there are other ways, and they don’t have to kill him. He is safe in isolation here.

“They’ve always been happy with that and he’s not a public health risk. They won’t test his friends, so they are obviously not worried that he is going to give them TB.

“No-one has died here from TB in four years, so I just don’t understand why it has to be this drastic.”

Ms Macdonald said that when Defra officials do attend her farm to euthanise Geronimo she will not break the law.

At her farm in Wickwar, friends, family and supporters have joined her to protest against Geronimo’s impending fate.

As well as alpacas, badgers have been a victim of the fight against bovine TB, with mass culling employed to stop the spread since 2013, sparking a huge public backlash.