UK

Minister refuses last-ditch pleas to save beloved alpaca’s life

No stay of execution for tragic Geronimo: Minister refuses last-ditch pleas to save beloved alpaca’s life

  • Geronimo the eight year old alpaca has been condemned to death for ‘bovine TB’
  • Alpaca breeder now fears Government officials ‘breaking in and shooting him’ 
  • Helen Macdonald vowed to prevent his execution, saying: ‘I will die first’


The eight-year-old animal was condemned to death after he twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis following his arrival from New Zealand in 2017

Environment Secretary George Eustice last night refused to spare the life of doomed alpaca Geronimo.

The eight-year-old animal was condemned to death after he twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis following his arrival from New Zealand in 2017.

A court order that came into effect yesterday gives officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 30 days to visit owner Helen Macdonald’s farm to put Geronimo down. 

Alpaca breeder Miss Macdonald, 50, said she fears Government officials ‘breaking in and shooting him’ and vowed to prevent his execution, saying: ‘I will die first’.

Mr Eustice made his first comments on the case last night following pressure to allow Geronimo to be retested. But he refused to change his position, effectively consigning the alpaca to slaughter.

He said: ‘My own family have a pedigree herd of South Devon cattle and we have lost cows to TB so I know how distressing it can be and have huge sympathy for farmers who suffer loss. I have looked at this case several times over the last three years and gone through all of the evidence with the Chief Vet and other experts in detail. Sadly, Geronimo has tested positive twice using a highly specific and reliable test.’

Alpaca breeder Miss Macdonald, 50, said she fears Government officials 'breaking in and shooting him' and vowed to prevent his execution, saying: 'I will die first'

Alpaca breeder Miss Macdonald, 50, said she fears Government officials ‘breaking in and shooting him’ and vowed to prevent his execution, saying: ‘I will die first’

Miss Macdonald, from Wickwar, Gloucestershire, who bought Geronimo for £15,000 to be a stud animal, said serious questions had been raised over Defra’s handling of the case.

Why animal faces the death penalty

How many tests has Geronimo had?

Seven. Geronimo had four skin tests before he was exported from New Zealand. They produced negative results. He also had two Enferplex blood tests and a skin test in the UK – all positive.

How does the Enferplex test work?

It measures the number of certain antibodies in Geronimo’s blood. If a threshold is met, the test is positive. A substance called tuberculin is injected into the animal. It contains a ‘heat-inactivated’ form of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and prompts an immune response which is said to show previous exposure to the disease.

Is it accurate?

Defra has said the test has a 0.36 per cent chance of a false positive. But trials of its accuracy have not been carried out with tuberculin on alpacas.

Why won’t Defra test him again?

Defra has said it would set a dangerous precedent where all farmers would demand their animals be retested after a positive bTB result.

Have other alpacas been tested?

The alpacas who made the journey from New Zealand with Geronimo were all tested and returned negative results. Geronimo is in isolation with five other alpacas. None has been tested and Defra has refused to allow it.

 

She said: ‘The police and officials could come without telling me, arrive with a gunman, break in and shoot him. I am hoping they wouldn’t send anybody here to shoot him. I can’t stand by and let my animal be killed.

‘I’m willing to stand in the way of any gunman who comes to destroy Geronimo. I will die first before they do anything to him.

‘It feels like it’s just minute-by-minute and I can’t even look at the clock.’

She added that she had considered asking her own vets to put Geronimo down but they ‘do not feel safe coming to euthanise him now as they fear animal rights activists will target them.’ Celebrity campaigners including actress Joanna Lumley and TV wildlife expert Chris Packham have backed her plea for mercy.

Miss Macdonald earlier appealed to the Prime Minister to step in with a petition attracting over 5,000 signatures. She said: ‘We’re asking Boris Johnson to intervene to sort this out and stop the slaughter order.

‘The entire industry is up in arms because this really is the senseless destruction of an innocent animal.

‘They have a choice here. They don’t have to kill him – they could at least test him first.’ It has emerged that Geronimo tested negative on four occasions in New Zealand.

Defra officials have been forced to defend the tests they used on Geronimo, which are said to have never been trialled for their accuracy in detecting bovine tuberculosis in alpacas. Miss Macdonald said: ‘We believe Defra know it was a false positive because they failed to contact New Zealand or other owners about a potential outbreak.

‘The decision-making around them retesting Geronimo was the start of their behaviour of covering things up. I feel frustrated, angry and deceived. There is a complete lack of transparency.’ She has said: ‘I just want him to be properly tested with an approved test and then if he was to test positive, I’d of course agree to put him down. They are putting me through hell.’

A Defra spokesman said: ‘We are sympathetic to Miss Macdonald’s situation – just as we are with everyone with animals affected by this terrible disease.’ 

He stressed the testing results and options for Geronimo had been ‘very carefully considered’ by experts and passed ‘thorough legal scrutiny’.

Joanna Lumley backed her plea for mercy

Chris Packham backed her plea for mercy

Celebrity campaigners including actress Joanna Lumley and TV wildlife expert Chris Packham have backed her plea for mercy

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