United Kingdom

Celebrities including Joanna Lumley and Chris Packham call on ministers to save Geronimo the alpaca

Celebrities, animal welfare campaigners and politicians joined forces last night to try to save an alpaca that faces being put down, possibly today.

Joanna Lumley and Chris Packham are among those demanding ministers give a last-minute reprieve to eight-year-old Geronimo, who is believed to have bovine tuberculosis.

The alpaca twice tested positive for the disease on arrival from New Zealand in 2017, despite previously testing negative. His owner Helen Macdonald, 50, from Wickwar, Gloucestershire, claims the tests produced false positives after Geronimo was injected with the drug tuberculin.

She asked the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to carry out another test, but was refused. A judge issued a new warrant for Geronimo – who is in isolation – to be put down following a judicial review in the High Court last week.

Geronimo the alpaca (pictured with his owner Helen Macdonald, 50) twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis on arrival from New Zealand in 2017, despite previously testing negative

The warrant takes effect from today. Actress Miss Lumley, a prominent animal rights activist, said last night: 'When in doubt, don't. So please spare Geronimo, as there is real doubt hanging over this death sentence.'

Naturalist Packham called for Environment Secretary George Eustice to 'get a grip' and halt the planned killing.

'If [Miss Macdonald] refuses they'll use a warrant, bring the police and force entry to kill a beautiful animal which is not diseased,' he said.

Miss Macdonald has spent £100,000 in legal costs and lost her alpaca business a further £80,000 in her bid to save Geronimo, who originally cost £15,000.

She accused Defra of causing harm to her mental health. 'I am in complete limbo,' she said. 

Joanna Lumley (pictured) and Chris Packham are among those demanding ministers give a last-minute reprieve to eight-year-old Geronimo, who is believed to have bovine tuberculosis

A judge issued a new warrant for Geronimo – who is in isolation – to be put down following a judicial review in the High Court last week. Pictured: Chris Packham

'They are giving me no ethical choice. I feel like a criminal.'

Miss Macdonald appealed to Mr Eustice to provide consent to test Geronimo again. He has refused several previous requests. Defra has claimed its bovine tuberculosis test, designed for cattle, was effective for Geronimo.

Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman Tim Farron said Geronimo's fate lay in Mr Eustice's hands. 

'I'm sure he doesn't want to be known as the politician who effectively commissioned death by bureaucracy for this poor animal that might not even be diseased,' he said.

Defra said: 'We are sympathetic to Miss Macdonald's situation. The testing results and options for Geronimo have been very carefully considered by Defra, the Animal and Plant Health Agency and its veterinary experts.'

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