Alpacas to join march on Downing Street in bid to save Geronimo

9 August 2021, 08:35 | Updated: 10 August 2021, 05:38

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Animal rights protesters will be joined by alpacas while marching on Downing Street today in an attempt to save fellow alpaca Geronimo from being put down.

The six-year-old mammal has twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis, leading the government to demand he be euthanised.

However, his owner, Helen Macdonald, believes the tests have returned false positives and is urging the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) to have him checked a third time.

But following a failed High Court appeal to save her beloved pet, which she imported from New Zealand, a warrant has now been signed for Geronimo's execution.

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Ms Macdonald has since received overwhelming public support for her cause, with nearly 100,000 people signing a petition calling on Boris Johnson to prevent the killing.

Later on Monday, protesters will begin marching from Defra's headquarters at Smith Square in Westminster at 2pm, before heading to the gates of Downing Street.

The demonstration is being organised by members of the Born Free Foundation, the Alpaca Society, and practicing vet and bovine TB policy expert Dr Iain McGill.

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Geronimo the alpaca is facing the threat of euthanasia
Geronimo the alpaca is facing the threat of euthanasia. Picture: Alamy
Owner Helen Macdonald said she will record the alpaca's death if it goes ahead
Owner Helen Macdonald said she will record the alpaca's death if it goes ahead. Picture: Alamy

Protesters will be joined by several alpacas who have been trained to walk with people and are comfortable around crowds, the organisers said.

The campaigners believe that Geronimo is free of TB and that Defra's tests are highly likely to be inaccurate. They are also demanding a different type of test be used to prove his disease status before his death.

Speaking before the demo, Dominic Dyer, from the Born Free Foundation, said: "Defra has known for many years that the TB skin test could be leading to false positive TB results in alpacas.

"However rather than allow Geronimo to be tested for TB using a more accurate Actiphage PCR blood test, Defra Secretary George Eustice continues to order his death to avoid greater scrutiny over the many failures in the Governments bovine TB control policy in cattle, alpacas and badgers."

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.

The protesters are calling for the prime minister to force the environment secretary to halt the killing and immediately implement the latest bovine TB tests for all suspected cases.

They also want to see an end to all further badger cull licences in favour of a vaccination programme for cattle, alpacas and badgers.

"The case of Geronimo the alpaca could well prove a major turning point in improving bovine TB control policy, in order to better protect cattle, alpacas and the future of our precious wildlife," Mr Dyer said.

The outcry over Geronimo's fate prompted George Eustice, who comes from a farming background, to write an article in the Mail on Sunday about his own experiences with bovine TB.

"Each week on average, we have to remove more than 500 cattle from herds due to infection in England alone. Behind every one of those cases is a farmer who has suffered loss and tragedy," he said.

"Farmers understand that infected animals are a risk to the remainder of their herd, so while the loss of individual animals is always a tragedy, the farming communities have worked with our government vets in this arduous but necessary endeavour."

Ms Macdonald has threatened to film the last moments of her alpaca's life if the cull goes ahead and broadcast it on social media.