The eight year old alpaca Geronimo, owned by a veterinary nurse, was finally put down four years after testing positive for bovine tuberculosis, a disease that attacks the respiratory system in cattle. For the protection against human infection, all animals testing positive for this disease are destroyed, but Geronimo’s death was deferred due to a question of the test’s accuracy.
The animal, raised in a South Gloucestershire farm, tested positive for bovine tuberculosis twice in 2017 after he was brought to the UK from New Zealand. The potential for spread to humans through “nasal contact and bodily fluids” is the reason some 27,000 animals were slaughtered in 2020 alone after compulsory testing. Symptoms of the disease include:
· Thinner bodies
· Continuous light fevers
· Reduced appetites
· Swollen lymph nodes
· Worsening coughs during cold weather or exercise
· chronic mastitis (udder infection incurable by antibiotic therapy)
If not treated, cattle and the products that come from them could infect humans. However, the risk of infection is said to be very low.
Questionable test results
The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) had proposed the order for Geronimo’s death in 2018, seeing him as a ‘significant threat’ who could spread the disease.
Veterinary nurse Helen Macdonald fought the death order on the grounds that the test had given a positive reading because of a TB protein derivative she had given her alpaca, and that the results were thus inaccurate.
She asserted that the test ‘confirming’ Geronimo’s condition was flawed, and that he should have been retested using more recent equipment that could have proven that he was not infected. She believed that the test results came back as a false positive, because Geronimo had been given a tuberculin vaccine before the test.
After four years of legal battles the decision was made; Macdonald’s request to temporarily stop the order and reopen the case had been rejected by a judge, and Geronimo was to be put down.
Last ditch efforts
With Geronimo’s life in danger, Macdonald rallied to protect her furry friend, gaining support of over 140,000 individuals who signed an online petition. Many protested at 10 Downing Street in August to express their outrage and demand that the government halt the kill order.
The situation even grabbed the attention of Stanley Johnson, the prime minister’s own father, who joined in the fight to save Geronimo before his death, calling the atrocity a ‘murderous errand’ by Environment Secretary George Eustice.
“I hope and believe his execution can be avoided even at this late stage.” Stanley Johnson had said.
At the end of August, uniformed police, with their faces shielded behind masks and goggles, arrived to forcibly take the animal away and he was euthanized shortly thereafter.
“The infected animal was moved from the premises and euthanised by staff from the Animal and Plant Health Agency as a necessary measure to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis,” the statement by DEFRA read.
Supporters and other alpaca owners condemned the act as “disgraceful” and “abhorrent.” They decried the capturing of the animal as “startling and totally inexcusable,” as footage of the event saw the officials dragging, kicking and screaming at the terrified alpaca.
The British Alpaca Society called out the poor handling of the animal in transport. “Whoever led this repulsive exercise yesterday simply hadn’t bothered to find out the proper techniques.” the Society said.
Despite the public outcry, the government’s chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss maintained her stance in the name of ‘human safety.’
“No one wants to have to cull infected animals if it can be avoided,” Middlemiss said. “But we need to follow the scientific evidence and cull animals that have been tested positive for bTB to minimise spread of this insidious disease and ultimately eradicate the biggest threat to animal health in this country.”
Upon the death of her beloved alpaca, Macdonald lashed out against the government for failing to heed to campaigners.
“I’m absolutely disgusted by this government.” said Macdonald. “They know that they set him up four years ago with incompetence and bullying and a falsified test that has no validity and yet [here] we are this morning. Geronimo has been manhandled out of my farm.”
Zoologist Megan McCubbin called out DEFRA and the National Farmer’s Union as “disgraceful” and “lacking common sense and compassion.”
People have taken to Twitter to voice their grievances over the death of Geronimo, flooding the social network with “Geronimo” being the top trend on the site. A petition has been launched in the hopes to prevent more unnecessary deaths of alpacas without “valid science.”
Macdonald has vowed that she will continue the fight to expose the flaws and lies of the authorities.