Plight of alpaca takes new turn as it emerges a healthy animal was killed

The plight of Geronimo the alpaca took a new turn last night after it was revealed that a healthy animal was killed for having bovine tuberculosis – then repeatedly tested negative after its death.

Karlie, an 11-year-old female alpaca, was put down on the orders of Government officials after testing positive in October 2018.

But when a post-mortem examination was carried out and her blood analysed months later, there was no evidence of the disease. 

As with Geronimo, Karlie’s owner, Bridget Tibbs-Hamilton, is convinced the test carried out by officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was flawed.

Bridget Tibbs-Hamilton and her husband, James, with some of their alpaca herd

Bridget Tibbs-Hamilton and her husband, James, with some of their alpaca herd

Bridget Tibbs-Hamilton and her husband, James, with some of their alpaca herd

Karlie, an 11-year-old female alpaca, was put down on the orders of Government officials after testing positive in October 2018

Karlie, an 11-year-old female alpaca, was put down on the orders of Government officials after testing positive in October 2018

Karlie, an 11-year-old female alpaca, was put down on the orders of Government officials after testing positive in October 2018

Geronimo was condemned to death after twice testing positive for bovine tuberculosis (BTB) after he arrived in the UK from New Zealand in 2017.

Mrs Tibbs-Hamilton and the vet who cared for Karlie believe the tuberculin protein, which was injected into the alpaca to increase her sensitivity to the blood test, boosted her antibodies and produced a false positive result.

Environment Secretary George Eustice was yesterday accused of ‘lying’ and ‘misunderstanding’ the science behind the tests to justify Geronimo’s slaughter.

Helen Macdonald, Geronimo’s veterinary nurse owner, is adamant he doesn’t have bTB and his two positive results are due to a build-up of tuberculin caused by repeated priming for tests.

The 50-year-old has vowed to protect Geronimo at all costs and yesterday called on volunteers to come to her Gloucestershire farm to act as human shields to protect the eight-year-old alpaca from the executioner. 

The stricken animal has also attracted some unlikely supporters, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's father Stanley asking for a last-minute reprieve

The stricken animal has also attracted some unlikely supporters, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's father Stanley asking for a last-minute reprieve

The stricken animal has also attracted some unlikely supporters, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s father Stanley asking for a last-minute reprieve

BBC presenter Chris Packham yesterday urged Environment Secretary George Eustice to put politics aside and allow Geronimo to be tested one more time

BBC presenter Chris Packham yesterday urged Environment Secretary George Eustice to put politics aside and allow Geronimo to be tested one more time

BBC presenter Chris Packham yesterday urged Environment Secretary George Eustice to put politics aside and allow Geronimo to be tested one more time

More than 95,000 have signed a petition calling for the alpaca to be saved and his plight has won the backing of celebrities, including actress Joanna Lumley.

The stricken animal has also attracted some unlikely supporters, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s father Stanley asking for a last-minute reprieve.

Writing in The Sun, Stanley, who champions animal rights issues, said: ‘I hope and believe his execution can be avoided even at this late stage.’

The author said seeing photos of Geronimo ‘took me back 62 years ago’  to his gap year in South America from Brazil to Peru where he encountered ‘herds of llamas, vicunas, and alpacas’. 

‘But when I read the dreadful story which accompanied the ­photos, my heart took a rapid leap back down to earth,’ he added on hearing of Geronimo’s ordeal. 

BBC presenter Chris Packham yesterday urged Mr Eustice to put politics aside and allow Geronimo to be tested one more time.

Geronimo was condemned to death after twice testing positive for bovine tuberculosis (BTB) after he arrived in the UK from New Zealand in 2017

Geronimo was condemned to death after twice testing positive for bovine tuberculosis (BTB) after he arrived in the UK from New Zealand in 2017

Geronimo was condemned to death after twice testing positive for bovine tuberculosis (BTB) after he arrived in the UK from New Zealand in 2017

Mrs Tibbs-Hamilton, who has run her alpaca breeding farm in the Cotswolds with husband James for eight years, said finding out Karlie was clear after her death had been ‘awful’. She said: ‘That is why I’m so passionate about supporting Helen and Geronimo because the system just isn’t doing its job.

‘There’s many problems with false positives and Defra have refused to allow research, they just don’t want to know.’

Karlie’s vet Bob Broadbent, an ex-president of the British Veterinary Camelid Society, said the department had not published any data on how priming alpacas prior to blood tests could affect results, despite years of requests.

‘I have known the alpacas Bridget owns for years… and there has never been an issue with bTB,’ he said. ‘I have worked for 35 years with alpacas in an area where TB is endemic and I was amazed Karlie failed the test and I am convinced she was a healthy animal.

‘As bTB progresses, visible lesions usually appear. There were none at post-mortem in Karlie. They also cultured parts of the carcass to try to grow the bTB bacterium but failed to do so. Before I euthanised her I also took blood and kept it in the freezer and 18 months later submitted it for a surveillance test which it passed, indicating that there was no bTB present.’

Mr Broadbent said Defra had been given the opportunity ‘over and over again’ to collect data to show how priming affects camelids, which the industry has also offered to pay for. ‘Prior to priming Defra could take a blood sample and compare that to the one taken 30 days later [after priming] to show what the effect is.’

Mr Broadbent, who has also cared for Geronimo, added: ‘I’ve known Geronimo for three years and conducted regular examinations including scans on his liver. I have seen no lesions or evidence of disease.’

A Defra spokesman insisted lesions caused by bTB can take years to grow big enough to be seen by the naked eye and failure to identify them does not mean no infection is present. Similarly, it is not possible to culture the bTB bacteria from tissue samples in every case, he said.

Vet: Minister is lying about the science… and should be sacked 

Geronimo’s vet last night accused minister George Eustice of ‘lying about the science’ to justify the alpaca’s execution and called for him to be sacked.

Dr Iain McGill criticised comments made by the Environment Secretary in which he explained why the positive bovine tuberculosis (bTB) tests were reliable.

‘George Eustice has blatantly lied here about the tests used on Geronimo,’ he said. ‘It is despicable to attempt to manufacture consent for the slaughter of Geronimo with entirely false information. George Eustice must now resign. If he doesn’t, the Prime Minister should sack him.’

Geronimo's vet last night accused minister George Eustice (pictured) of ‘lying about the science’

Geronimo's vet last night accused minister George Eustice (pictured) of ‘lying about the science’

Geronimo’s vet last night accused minister George Eustice (pictured) of ‘lying about the science’

In an article in The Mail on Sunday, Mr Eustice claimed the ‘Enferplex’ blood test, used twice on Geronimo, was validated by the British Alpaca Society, was 99 per cent accurate and produced a ‘false positive’ in only 0.34 per cent of cases.

However, Dr McGill said Mr Eustice had failed to take into account the fact that Geronimo was ‘primed’ or injected with a protein called tuberculin to increase sensitivity to the test, on the orders of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Experts and Geronimo’s owner, veterinary nurse Helen Macdonald, are convinced that the tuberculin produced false positive results.

Dr McGill, an ex-Government adviser and bTB expert, also said Mr Eustice had shown a ‘total misunderstanding’ of the science by claiming Enferplex tests detect the bug itself, rather than an immune response to it. Dr McGill said Mr Eustice was confusing Enferplex with the ‘Actiphage’ test, which detects live bTB bacteria. Defra has refused to use this test. Last night, Defra rejected Dr McGill’s claims that Mr Eustice had lied and misinterpreted the science.

A spokesman said unique antigens, or proteins, secreted by bTB bacteria were detected by the two Enferplex tests.

The spokesman also stood by the test accuracy rate, saying a survey used to assess accuracy did include primed alpacas, and added that Actiphage test results were difficult to interpret.

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