Leading vets have 'grave reservations' about culling of Geronimo the alpaca

Geronimo the alpaca at Shepherds Close Farm in Wooton Under Edge, Gloucestershire. Geronimo has twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis.
Geronimo the alpaca at Shepherds Close Farm in Wooton Under Edge, Gloucestershire. Geronimo has twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis.

13 vets have asked the government to spare Geronimo, in order to 'learn' more about bovine tuberculosis

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More than a dozen leading vets have called on the Government to halt the culling of Geronimo the alpaca after questioning his tuberculosis diagnosis, and instead urged the animal to be studied for science.

The 13 vets – who include a former senior official at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) – said they had “grave reservations” about the two positive tests the animal returned in 2017 and they “may well represent a false positive”.

Geronimo the alpaca at Shepherds Close Farm in Wooton Under Edge.
Geronimo the alpaca at Shepherds Close Farm in Wooton Under Edge.

Geronimo’s owner Helen Macdonald has long argued the Enferplex test was fundamentally flawed and says he tested positive because he had repeatedly been primed with tuberculin – a purified protein derivative of bovine TB bacteria.

DEFRA has ordered the eight-year-old alpaca to be euthanised and a destruction warrant is valid until September 4.

Ms Macdonald, a veterinary nurse, wants the Government to allow Geronimo to be tested for a third time or let him live to aid research into the disease.

Among the signatories to the letter are Professor Ranald Munroe, former head of pathology for DEFRA’s Veterinary Laboratories Agency and Dr Iain McGill, veterinary scientific adviser to Ms Macdonald.

Helen Macdonald at Shepherds Close Farm in Wooton Under Edge, Gloucestershire.
Helen Macdonald at Shepherds Close Farm in Wooton Under Edge, Gloucestershire.

In the letter, they write: “It is our professional opinion that the diagnosis in Geronimo’s case is unsafe, and may well represent a false positive, due to the fact that Geronimo had been repeatedly ‘antibody boosted’ or primed – five times in his lifetime with four injections of bovine tuberculin and one of avian tuberculin in the run up to the final Enferplex blood test which confirmed the ‘positive’ diagnosis of ‘suspicion of disease’.”

They said Environment Secretary George Eustice had the power to overturn Geronimo’s destruction warrant and order he be observed for scientific research.

“We could learn a great deal from Geronimo were he to be compassionately studied, but very little from his death,” they said.

“We believe Geronimo’s case shines a light on the shortcomings of the current bTB testing policy, and gives an opportunity for a comprehensive review of the bovine TB testing and control policy, based on science and for the health and wellbeing of farmers, cattle, alpacas, badgers, the environment and the public.

Environment Secretary George Eustice arrives in Downing Street.
Environment Secretary George Eustice arrives in Downing Street.

“Given the mental anguish that Helen MacDonald has had to endure these past four years, and the publicity surrounding the case, we would urge Secretary of State for DEFRA, George Eustice and his team to discuss matters with us and Ms MacDonald to find a way out of this impasse.”

Ms Macdonald, who farms alpacas at her home in Wickwar, South Gloucestershire, has received support from around the world – with more than 130,000 people signing a petition against Geronimo’s destruction.

“The letter is quite significant, and I hope the Government take notice,” Ms Macdonald said.

“There are a number of veterinary professionals saying there is no evidence.

The Government insisted all the evidence on the animal’s condition had been “looked at very carefully”.

A DEFRA spokesman said: “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.”