Geronimo the alpaca is killed after government vets and police visit farm

August 31 2021
Geronimo the alpaca is killed after government vets and police visit farm

THE alpaca at the centre of a legal battle over animal disease testing has been killed.

Government vets accompanied by police went to the farm in Wickwar where Geronimo was being held in quarantine and took him away in a horsebox earlier today.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs later said that the alpaca had been put down, in accordance with a court warrant issued following the end of a four-year fight by owner Helen Macdonald to prove that Geronimo did not have bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

Defra's action to put down the animal, four days before the deadline for executing the court warrant expired, was described as "thuggery" by Helen, who had been trying to persuade Environment Secretary George Eustice and Prime Minister to look into the effectiveness of testing policy, using Geronimo as a case study.

After Geronimo was put down she told BBC news she felt "betrayed" by Defra's actions, accusing the government department of "using bully-boy tactics" when they could be learning lessons.

Helen said: "We offered them a research opportunity and they have just fobbed us off.

"We've had police and drones and God knows what here today to remove a perfectly healthy animal."

Asked what she thought of expressions of sympathy from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Helen said: "I don't need Boris's sympathy, I need him to do his job and I need him to hold George Eustice to account, with Christine Middlemiss (the government's chief vet), Lord Benyon (rural affairs minister) and everybody else that has allowed this to happen today."

Helen said that since an appeal hearing against a 'destruction warrant' was refused by a High Court judge in August, she had been trying without success to engage with the government.

She said: "For the last three weeks we've been negotiating behind the scenes, trying to get a meeting with George Eustice, and we've been ignored.

"We were told they were away on holiday and something would happen this week – clearly we were duped.

"We've been bullied and threatened for four years, all over a simple question, which is 'where is the evidence to say that this test was accurate?'

Geronimo tested positive for the deadly disease after being imported from New Zealand in 2017.

But Helen claims the result was a false positive, caused because he had had injections of tuberculin – a protein combination used in the diagnosis of tuberculosis – as part of a skin test.

The impact of tuberculin on Alpacas has never been assessed and Helen had been calling for Geronimo to be kept alive so research can be carried out – a call which has been backed by a group of leading vets, including a former senior official at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

But Defra has refused to change its stance and, after an appeal hearing against a 'destruction warrant' was refused by a High Court judge in August, Defra was given until September 4 to put down the animal.

Helen said Geronimo had come from a herd with no TB in New Zealand and the evidence was that he had never been exposed to the disease

She said: "I asked a valid question four years ago over the efficacy of the test they used and I've never had an answer.

"They had no data to suggest that he was actually infected."

She said the policy on bTB needed to be completely re-thought because it was not working and the disease was endemic.