Geronimo's owner 'devastated' as alpaca killed by vets despite pleas to keep him alive

31 August 2021, 12:45 | Updated: 31 August 2021, 15:11

Geronimo the alpaca was seen being taken away from his pen by Defra and police officers.
Geronimo the alpaca was seen being taken away from his pen by Defra and police officers. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

The owner of Geronimo the alpaca said she is "devastated" her beloved pet has been killed by government vets after he twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis.

Defra said Geronimo was moved from the farm in Wickwar, Gloucestershire, on Tuesday and "euthanised" by staff from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) as a "necessary measure to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB)".

Helen Macdonald, Geronimo's owner, said the slaughter of her beloved animal was an "absolute disgrace".

"He did not ever catch disease in New Zealand and he has never been exposed to TB. This is blatant abuse."

She told reporters Defra refused to say where Geronimo was being taken before he was euthanised.

Read more: Alpacas join march on Downing Street in bid to save Geronimo

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"The government have refused to engage in good faith. We now know they have been stringing us along for the last week. Fobbing us off by saying people are on holiday and would get back to us this week.

"Now we know that they were not only ignoring our consistent pleas for constructive dialogue but had no intention of engaging with us.

"In fact, all the time they were simply planning to murder Geronimo. This is yet another appalling demonstration of bad faith and duplicity by the secretary of state and everyone at Defra."

The 50-year-old said she had to leave the farm because had she stayed she would have been prosecuted for obstruction if she failed to capture Geronimo herself.

Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: "This is a terribly sad situation and our sympathies remain with all those affected by this devastating disease.

"No one wants to have to cull infected animals if it can be avoided, but we need to follow the scientific evidence and cull animals that have tested positive for bTB to minimise spread of this insidious disease and ultimately eradicate the biggest threat to animal health in this country.

"Not only is this essential to protect the livelihoods of our farming industry and rural communities, but it is also necessary to avoid more TB cases in humans."

Defra said a post-mortem examination will now be carried out by veterinary pathologists, followed by a bacteriological culture of selected tissue samples, which can take up to three months to process.

Avon and Somerset Police officers arrived at the site shortly before 11am to assist Defra with leading the alpaca away.

Owner Helen Macdonald believes the two tests were false positives, and had been campaigning to save the alpaca from slaughter.

Avon and Somerset Police said earlier: “We can confirm officers are in attendance at a farm in the Wickwar area of South Gloucestershire this morning to support the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), who are executing a court warrant.

“We’ll always support our partner agencies to carry out their lawful duties and our role is to prevent a breach of the peace and to ensure public safety is protected.”

One woman was briefly arrested after spraying officers with a water pistol, but was quickly de-arrested.

Helen Macdonald, the owner of Geronimo the alpaca, after the animal was taken away to an undisclosed location.
Helen Macdonald, the owner of Geronimo the alpaca, after the animal was taken away to an undisclosed location. Picture: Alamy

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It's obviously highly distressing for someone to lose animals to TB and that's a situation that farmers sadly have to face.

"Our sympathies are with Ms Macdonald and any others that are affected by this terrible disease."

Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease of cattle, and can also infect and cause disease in many other mammals including humans, deer, goats, pigs, cats, dogs and badgers.

Ms Macdonald wanted the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to allow Geronimo to be tested for a third time or let him live to aid research into the disease.

Earlier this month she lost her final appeal to save her beloved pet at the High Court in London and a warrant was signed for Geronimo's destruction.

She made a further bid to halt his destruction while Defra was investigated over claims it had not disclosed evidence relating to the testing regime used to test him and other camelids.

However, in a ruling on August 18, Mrs Justice Stacey refused to grant injunctions to spare the alpaca and for further disclosure - signalling the end of the road.

Read more: Geronimo the alpaca handed 24-hour reprieve but still faces execution

Ms Macdonald previously told LBC's Nick Ferrari: "Geronimo has not failed a validated test."

She added: "If they gave him the test he was supposed to have had, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Ms Macdonald had long argued that the Enferplex test is fundamentally flawed and says Geronimo tested positive because he had repeatedly been primed with tuberculin - a purified protein derivative of bovine TB bacteria.

The veterinary nurse has received support from around the world - with more than 140,000 people signing a petition against Geronimo's destruction.

Supporters even camped out at her farm to try to prevent officials arriving to destroy Geronimo.

Police lined the pen of Geronimo the alpaca in South Gloucestershire.
Police lined the pen of Geronimo the alpaca in South Gloucestershire. Picture: Alamy

A Defra spokesman added: "We are sympathetic to Ms Macdonald's situation - just as we are with everyone with animals affected by this terrible disease.

"While nobody wants to cull animals, we need to do everything we can tackle this disease to stop it spreading and to protect the livelihoods of those affected."

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.