Owner of doomed alpaca Geronimo vows to film ‘every moment’ of his killing

The owner of doomed alpaca Geronimo says she plans to film ‘every moment’ of his killing and upload it to social media.  

A High Court judge has ruled that the animal has tuberculosis on the basis of two positive tests, but his owner Helen Macdonald, 50, claims the tests were ‘misused’ and has called for her beloved pet to be spared. 

Veterinary nurse Ms Macdonald told the Sunday Times she wants ‘the world to know the truth about what the UK government did’ to the eight-year-old alpaca, who has been targeted for euthanasia since he arrived in Britain from New Zealand four years ago.

She said two police officers approached her about euthanasia arrangements, and one told her: ‘We just want to have a chat about what your intentions are’.

Ms Macdonald said: ‘This is about more than just Geronimo. This is about standing up to a government that thinks it can do whatever it wants.’ 

It comes after Cabinet Minister George Eustice defended the decision to put down Geronimo the alpaca – despite the owner telling him he will have ‘blood on his hands’.  

Geronimo the alpaca in Gloucestershire, August 8. A High Court judge has ruled that the animal has tuberculosis on the basis of two positive tests

Geronimo the alpaca in Gloucestershire, August 8. A High Court judge has ruled that the animal has tuberculosis on the basis of two positive tests

Geronimo the alpaca in Gloucestershire, August 8. A High Court judge has ruled that the animal has tuberculosis on the basis of two positive tests

Helen Macdonald, 50, claims the tests were 'misused' and has called for her beloved pet to be spared

Helen Macdonald, 50, claims the tests were 'misused' and has called for her beloved pet to be spared

Helen Macdonald, 50, claims the tests were ‘misused’ and has called for her beloved pet to be spared 

Mr Eustice said his own farming family had suffered the ‘soul destroying’ slaughter of a cherished cow, Rose, due to bTB but he underlined the need to prevent the spread of the ‘insidious’ disease.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Eustice said: ‘There has been a great deal of focus on the case of Geronimo the alpaca this week.

‘However, 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.

‘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.’

Mr Eustice said he first looked at Geronimo’s case more than three years ago and has examined it several times since.

‘Geronimo tested positive twice using a test called the ‘Enferplex’ test. It is the test that was requested by the British Alpaca Society at the time.’

The test is ‘over 99% accurate with a ‘false positive’ in only 0.34% of cases’, he said.

Helen Macdonald, 50, claims the tests were 'misused' and has called for her beloved pet to be spared

Helen Macdonald, 50, claims the tests were 'misused' and has called for her beloved pet to be spared

Helen Macdonald, 50, claims the tests were ‘misused’ and has called for her beloved pet to be spared

Police arrive at the property of Helen Macdonald to discuss the situation with Geronimo

Police arrive at the property of Helen Macdonald to discuss the situation with Geronimo

Police arrive at the property of Helen Macdonald to discuss the situation with Geronimo

While it is accurate, it is not very sensitive – so in around 30% of cases it will not detect an infection even if the animal has bTB.

‘Two consecutive positive test results is a very strong indicator of the presence of the disease,’ he said.

Geronimo had four skin tests before he was exported from New Zealand, all of which were negative. The animal then had two blood tests and a skin test in the UK which were all positive.

Ms Macdonald, a vet and alpaca breeder, who has a farm in south Gloucestershire, has claimed the UK tests carried out on the New Zealand-born male alpaca were inaccurate.

She told the PA news agency on Friday: ‘It’s a total load of lies, the testing has never been validated.’

A High Court judge has ruled that the animal has tuberculosis on the basis of two positive tests

A High Court judge has ruled that the animal has tuberculosis on the basis of two positive tests

A High Court judge has ruled that the animal has tuberculosis on the basis of two positive tests

She said if Mr Eustice is ‘willing to kill a healthy animal in front of the whole world without testing him properly first, then it’s a sorry state of affairs’.

‘And it will be for the world to see. Because if he sends some poor person down here with a gun to shoot Geronimo then it will get filmed by the world’s media,’ she added.

Writing for the first time on the issue that has split Britain, Mr Eustice tells how his own farming family had to kill a beloved cow who tested positive for TB.

He says Rose was ‘a cow that my father said was one of the best he had ever seen. To make matters worse, she had sadly lost her calf the previous year. 

As a result, she had to be removed for slaughter having never had a living calf. It was soul-destroying.’

Mr Eustice says he has looked at Geronimo’s case ‘in detail’ several times over the past three years. 

Explaining why he has decided not to call off the death sentence, he writes that the test used on Geronimo is ‘over 99 per cent accurate with a ‘false positive’ in only 0.34 per cent of cases.

‘However, it is not a very sensitive test. That is to say, in around 30 per cent of cases it won’t detect an infection even when one is present. Two consecutive positive test results is a very strong indicator of the presence of the disease.’

The Environment Minister (pictured) admitted that it is 'soul-destroying' to have to kill animals, but insists it is the right decision to stop the spread of disease

The Environment Minister (pictured) admitted that it is 'soul-destroying' to have to kill animals, but insists it is the right decision to stop the spread of disease

The Environment Minister (pictured) admitted that it is ‘soul-destroying’ to have to kill animals, but insists it is the right decision to stop the spread of disease

The Minister also spoke of the dangers of bovine TB to livestock and in part blamed ‘inaction’ by Tony Blair’s government for the situation. 

He writes: ‘There are no easy answers when it comes to dealing with TB in cattle’ and adds that each week on average more than 500 animals have to be culled due to infection in England. 

‘Behind every one of those cases is a farmer who has suffered loss and tragedy,’ he says.

Ms Macdonald, 50, has repeatedly appealed to Boris Johnson and Mr Eustice to halt the destruction order which means Geronimo – named after an Apache chief – must be put down within 30 days of it coming into effect last Thursday.

More than 90,000 people have signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to step in, and tomorrow hundreds of supporters are expected to attend a protest march in Whitehall.

But Downing Street has refused to grant a stay of execution. 

GEORGE EUSTICE: Each week we lose 500 cattle to TB and every one means a tragedy for farmers – including Geronimo’s owner  

By George Eustice for the Mail On Sunday

My family have had a herd of pedigree South Devon Cattle for six generations. My ancestors were involved in the formation of the society that formally recognised the breed.

My grandfather attended agricultural shows as far afield as South Africa and Australia to judge cattle and, at the age of 26, my father was one of the youngest-ever cattle judges at the Royal Show.

While there are moments of joy and optimism in farming, every livestock farmer has to get used to their share of tragedy and loss.

A few years ago, our own herd suffered from several TB breakdowns. A shortage of grass meant that they had to take on some temporary grazing away from the farm and some of the cattle that returned tested positive for TB.

Writing in The Mail on Sunday, George Eustice (pictured) has defended the decision to put down Geronimo the alpaca and said it is the right decision to stop the spread of disease

Writing in The Mail on Sunday, George Eustice (pictured) has defended the decision to put down Geronimo the alpaca and said it is the right decision to stop the spread of disease

Writing in The Mail on Sunday, George Eustice (pictured) has defended the decision to put down Geronimo the alpaca and said it is the right decision to stop the spread of disease

Among them was Rose, a cow that my father said was one of the best he had ever seen. To make matters worse, she had sadly lost her calf the previous year. 

As a result she had to be removed for slaughter having never had a living calf. It was soul-destroying.

Bovine TB (bTB) was a huge problem for our cattle industry during the last century and it took several decades in the post-war years to finally get it under control.

However, a combination of inaction during the Blair years, coupled with increased cattle movements in the wake of the foot and mouth crisis, led to a sharp rise in the incidence of the disease at the beginning of the millennium, and we have been wrestling with that over the past decade.

Bovine TB is an insidious disease. It is difficult to detect because it develops slowly and there are often no obvious symptoms. It can lurk in the environment for several months and it can become embedded in the badger population.

One of the lessons in the post-war years is that testing and removing infected livestock from herds is critical to eventual success.

There has been a great deal of focus on the case of Geronimo the alpaca last week. However, 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. 

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.

Ministers should always challenge and probe on the rationale for certain policy approaches and on individual cases, so I first looked in detail at the case of Geronimo over three years ago and on several occasions since.

There has been focus on Geronimo the alpaca (pictured with Helen McDonald). But each week, on average, we remove more than 500 cattle from herds due to infection in England alone

There has been focus on Geronimo the alpaca (pictured with Helen McDonald). But each week, on average, we remove more than 500 cattle from herds due to infection in England alone

There has been focus on Geronimo the alpaca (pictured with Helen McDonald). But each week, on average, we remove more than 500 cattle from herds due to infection in England alone

Geronimo tested positive twice using a test called the ‘Enferplex’ test. It is the test that was requested by the British Alpaca Society at the time. When it comes to positive test results, it is over 99 per cent accurate with a ‘false positive’ in only 0.34 per cent of cases.

However, it is not a very sensitive test. That is to say, in around 30 per cent of cases it won’t detect an infection even when one is present. Two consecutive positive test results is a very strong indicator of the presence of the disease.

I investigated the owner’s assertion that a previous ‘skin test’ in New Zealand combined with using a ‘primer’ might have led to a false result, but the Enferplex test detects the protein of bTB itself, not an immune response, so that theory was discounted.

I also explored the claim that the skin test in New Zealand should have been relied upon, but the skin test can pick up around 25 per cent of cases in alpacas at best so is far less reliable than the test used in the UK.

There are no easy answers when it comes to dealing with TB in cattle, and we will always need to pursue a range of measures. However, last year British scientists made a major breakthrough with a new test that can differentiate between the disease and a vaccine.

This opens the prospect to us being able to vaccinate cattle in future, which will reduce the levels of infection, mean that fewer cattle need to be slaughtered and give us an exit strategy from the badger cull. 

Field trials started in earnest earlier this summer and we aim to be in a position to start vaccinating cattle in a few years’ time.

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