Who is Geronimo the alpaca? Why there's a petition to save the animal from euthanasia - and bovine TB explained

Downing Street’s latest stance is that there will be no reprieve for Geronimo, who twice tested positive for the disease and is set to be put down

Geronimo the alpaca hit the headlines after he became the centre of a row between the government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and his owner Helen Macdonald.

The animal twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis and is set to be euthanised under Defra’s instruction.

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Animal rights protesters marched on Downing Street on Monday (9 August) in an effort to save Geronimo and a petition calling on Boris Johnson to halt the put down has reached more than 100,000 signatures.

Helen Macdonald imported Geronimo the alpaca from New Zealand in 2017. Now people are protesting for him to be saved (PA Media)

So, who is Geronimo, what’s the situation and why is there a petition to save him?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Who is Geronimo the alpaca?

Geronimo is an eight-year-old male alpaca who was brought to England from New Zealand in August 2017 by his owner Ms Macdonald.

She has been breeding alpacas at Shepherds Close Farm in Wickwar, near Bristol, for more than 15 years.

The animal has been kept in quarantine since he arrived on British soil.

Why is he set to be euthanised?

Defra has ordered Geronimo to be euthanised after he twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis.

The fatal disease leads to the slaughter of thousands of cattle each year to ensure it doesn’t spread.

But Ms Macdonald believes the two tuberculosis tests were false positives and claims the animal had been “primed” before they were carried out by being injected with bovine tuberculin.

She also claims the alpaca tested negative for the disease while he was in New Zealand.

Ms Macdonald has been refused permission to have the alpaca tested a third time and recently lost her final appeal to save her beloved pet at the High Court in London.

Geronimo’s owner has since hit out at the government and accused it of abusing its power.

Speaking on Sky News on Tuesday (10 August) morning, Ms Macdonald said: “They don’t have to kill him.

“We haven’t seen any factual information coming out recently and certainly not for the last four years - they're still misquoting data on the tests they claim is highly accurate and specific.”

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What is bovine tuberculosis?

Bovine tuberculosis, or bovine TB, is an infectious disease of cattle - although humans are susceptible to catching it as well as other mammals including cats and dogs.

It’s caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis.

In cattle, it’s mostly a respiratory disease.

Infection occurs mainly through inhalation or ingestion of bacteria. This can happen through nose to nose contact and contact with bodily fluids.

The bacterium can exist in the environment from a few days to months.

The disease can be very damaging to farmers and those who make their livelihoods in agriculture, which is why the policy of euthanasia was adopted.

A controversial mass culling of badgers was employed in 2013 to stop the spread of bovine TB.

Why is there a petition to save Geronimo?

Since her situation was made public, Ms Macdonald has received an outpouring of support to save the alpaca.

As well as the petition, which accuses Defra of creating a “suspicion of disease” to “destroy” Geronimo, animal rights protesters gathered outside the ministerial department’s headquarters in Westminster before marching to the gates of Downing Street.

Some people held banners with the words: "We stand with Geronimo” and "[George] Eustice, admit you're wrong".

Members of the public are demanding a different type of tuberculosis test is used to prove Geronimo’s disease status before he is euthanised.

What has Downing Street said?

Downing Street has so far insisted there will be no reprieve for Geronimo and said the case had been “looked at very carefully”.

The PM’s official spokesperson said on Monday: "We know how distressing losing animals to TB is for anyone. That is why the Environment Secretary has looked at this extremely carefully and interrogated all the evidence.

"The fact remains that Geronimo has sadly tested positive twice using a highly specific and reliable and validated test.

"This is something the environment secretary has looked at very carefully."

Environment Secretary George Eustice said while he knew it was “soul destroying” having to euthanise animals, it was necessary.

No firm date or time has been issued for Geronimo to be put down, but the signed warrant for his euthanisation is expected to be carried out within 30 days after Ms Macdonald lost her final appeal last week.

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