By Annette J Beveridge
On August 31st, the fight to save Geronimo the Alpaca came to a tragic close. The scenes were shocking as animal lovers the world over watched in horror. This is a PR disaster and may be the catalyst that rightly leads to the downfall of the Environment Secretary George Eustace.
The story of Geronimo is one of love and now, tragedy. His owner Helen MacDonald fought to save Geronimo with a dedication and commitment that lasted for years. Tested for TB, Geronimo had two negative tests in New Zealand. Following this, he had two positive tests through DEFRA in the UK. His owner was convinced the tests were false positives due to being primed with Tuberculin – a purified protein derivative of the bTB bacteria.
It is true that Alpacas and Llamas have a susceptibility to the bovine tuberculosis which is caused by a bacterium known as Mycobacterium bovis (M.bovis). This is a serious disease affecting many mammals – including cattle, deer, goats, cats and dogs. In Alpacas, weight loss and respiratory issues are common indicators that the animal is diseased with lung lesions and cavities occurring as lung tissue is destroyed. Geronimo did not exhibit any signs of illness.
The Enferplex bTB accuracy is dubious for use on camelids and includes Alpacas, Llamas and camels. It is known that other Alpacas have been destroyed but are found to be free from disease thereafter. The post-mortem is carried out by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). They take a bacteriological culture of tissue samples. This can take up to 3 months to process. At the time of writing, DEFRA is refusing the presence of an independent observer at Geronimo’s post-mortem which would, if allowed, help with public perception of a fair result. A lack of transparency at this critical stage is likely to escalate concerns.
Helen MacDonald was under huge pressure to order Geronimo to be put to sleep. DEFRA may have hoped that this would reduce intense public scrutiny and once done, the media would move on to the next big issue.
Due to their handling of the situation, DEFRA now have a colossal mountain to climb to ensure public confidence. The whole process of bTB testing has been undermined. Few people who watched Geronimo being brutally dragged away will forget those images. If DEFRA are hoping that public outrage will die along with Geronimo, they are surely mistaken. DEFRA have misjudged the extent and depth of emotion in all who campaigned to save him and there is a question mark about the rigidity of the process.
Geronimo captured the hearts of the nation and a protest is being organised on Wednesday 8th September in London at 1pm advocating justice for Geronimo and changes to be made to the controversial badger cull. The fight goes on but whether Eustace remains in his position is dubious to say the least. Geronimo’s death must not be for nothing and those responsible must be held to account. With public awareness of the atrocious bTB process, it is surely time to review and change it so that innocent animals are no longer destroyed.