Alpaca Geronimo could become bovine tuberculosis test case

Image source, Helen MacDonald
Image caption,
Helen MacDonald imported six-year-old Geronimo from New Zealand

The fate of an alpaca on a South Gloucestershire farm could become a test case for the control of turberculosis in the breed.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) ordered Geronimo be put down after he tested positive for bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

But his owner believes six-year-old Geronimo is healthy and the results are inaccurate.

Her fight to keep the animal alive has so far taken a year.

Helen MacDonald, who farms a herd of 75 alpacas in the village of Wickwar, says Geronimo - who was imported from New Zealand - is worth £30,000 to her business.

The alpaca - bought for his breeding credentials - has been isolated from the rest of Mrs MacDonald's herd for 14 months.

The government is expected to apply for a court order this week to have him destroyed.

Now, with the backing of the British Alpaca Society, she has threatened to take Defra to court if it does not re-test him.

'False positive'

Defra's policy is to isolate and then euthanize any cattle, including camelids (alpacas and llamas), which test positive for bTB.

Geronimo's case centres on the way camelids are tested.

The repeated tests involve using small amounts of tuberculin to prompt a reaction but Defra warns against too many tests within a short period as this can raise the antibody reactions.

His owner claims a Defra bovine TB test carried out on Geronimo in 2017 showed a false result because he had been repeatedly vaccinated since arriving in the UK.

"They know that priming with tuberculin causes false positives and Geronimo has passed all other skin and blood tests," said Mrs MacDonald.

"He has no symptoms of the disease. If he was infected he would have died since this fight started."

'Very sympathetic'

A Defra spokesperson said: "We are very sympathetic to Geronimo and his owner's situation - just as we are with everyone with animals affected by this terrible disease.

"However, bovine TB causes devastation and distress for farmers and rural communities and that is why we must have robust procedures in place to reduce risk of the disease spreading."

Defra figures up to the third quarter of 2017 show there were 66 premises in England and Wales containing camelids that were under restrictions for bovine TB.

Documents seen by the BBC also show a total of 1,684 camelids have been slaughtered due to possible TB infection since 2011.

Image source, Thinkstock
Image caption,
Rules introduced by Defra in 2015 cover specified non-bovine animals, including alpacas

The British Alpaca Society has encouraged its members to take part in voluntary testing for TB since 2015, at a cost of £20 per animal.

"It is part of our responsibility to ensure that tuberculosis is managed properly," said its chief executive Duncan Pullar.

Currently, only 5% of the national herd is tested regularly.

"Defra's position over Geronimo is not helping us. This is a mess. We need them to agree to further testing so that we can learn about animals' reactions to the disease and our members can trust the system," he added.

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