The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Geronimo the alpaca is on death row in England. Brits plan a ‘human shield’ to defend him.

Protesters, and alpacas, will march on Downing Street to demand that the government reverse its decision

Veterinary nurse Helen Macdonald said on Aug. 9 that she is skeptical of the tests done on her alpaca, Geronimo, and requests re-testing. (Video: The Washington Post)
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LONDON — An army of Brits and a determined owner are planning to form a “human shield” to save Geronimo the alpaca after government officials ordered he must be killed because he poses a health risk.

The pro-alpaca faction has drawn allies as prominent as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s father, as protesters — and alpacas — are also set to march outside 10 Downing Street on Monday afternoon local time in an effort to get officials to reconsider the decision.

A warrant was signed for Geronimo’s destruction after he tested positive for bovine tuberculosis, an infectious respiratory disease among cattle that can be passed to humans through nasal contact and also through other bodily fluids such as saliva and urine.

Almost 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on the British government to reverse a legal ruling that the 6-year-old animal be put down as soon as Monday. Those fighting for Geronimo say he should be retested using the latest equipment, which they claim could prove he isn’t infected.

Veterinary nurse Helen Macdonald, who owns the woolly creature and an alpaca farm in Gloucestershire, England, says she is skeptical of the tests conducted after Geronimo arrived on British soil from New Zealand, but her legal appeal of the ruling was denied.

Macdonald said she believes the test results returned a false positive because Geronimo had been given a tuberculin vaccine before testing, which led to antibodies in his system. Before Geronimo was imported to England from New Zealand in 2017, he underwent four skin tests that all came back negative. The other alpacas who traveled with Geronimo from New Zealand all returned negative results, according to media reports.

According to Macdonald, the alpaca is healthy and does not pose a threat.

Pressure is mounting on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to retest the animal who has a fleecy black coat and small tufts of curly dark hair on his head.

Speaking to PA news agency last week, Macdonald launched a blistering attack on officials, urging them to review the kill warrant.

“It’s a total load of lies, the testing has never been validated,” she said as Downing Street confirmed that there were “no plans for any further tests.”

British media reported that Macdonald was determined to protect the animal from being killed — alongside volunteers who have promised to guard Geronimo’s enclosure from police by creating a “human shield.”

Defending the government’s decision to end Geronimo’s life, Environment Secretary George Eustice said that the ruling was “arduous but necessary” and that the test used has an accuracy rate of over 99 percent. He said that only 0.34 percent of cases see a “false positive.”

“Geronimo tested positive twice using a test called the Enferplex test. It is the test that was requested by the British Alpaca Society at the time,” he said, adding that he had reviewed such cases many times.

“Each week on average, we have to remove more than 500 cattle from herds due to infection in England alone. Behind every one of those cases is a farmer who has suffered loss and tragedy,” Eustice explained.

Alpacas are related to camels and llamas and are known for their fuzzy coats and placid personalities. Experts say the animals, which are generally sociable, spit only when they are stressed or feel threatened.

On Monday, the Sun reported that Stanley Johnson, the prime minister’s father, had joined the fight to save the animal, branding him an “alpaca backer.”

“I hope and believe his execution can be avoided even at this late stage,” he said, adding that he had spoken with the animal’s owner over the weekend.

Macdonald told Stanley, who writes about wildlife for the publication, on Saturday that “I’m sitting here watching the front gate, hoping they’re not going to burst through with their guns to shoot him.”

Owners of animals that need to be culled to control the spread of infectious diseases will be compensated, according to Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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