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Downing Street and the execution of Geronimo the alpaca

Joanna Lumley and Stanley Johnson backing bid to save life of six-year-old pet

A group of alpacas are joining a march on Downing Street this afternoon in protest against the “death sentence” handed to a six-year-old member of their species. 

Geronimo the alpaca has twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis (bTB), “a deadly respiratory disease that has blighted the countryside for decades”, says The Guardian.

A spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told the i news site that bTB “is one of the greatest animal health threats we face today” and costs the taxpayer “around £100m every year”.

But animal rights activists flanked by a group of trained alpacas are marching today in support of Geronimo’s owner, Helen Macdonald, who last week lost her final appeal at the High Court to save her pet. Veterinary nurse Macdonald, who runs an alpaca farm in Gloucestershire, says she has spent £80,000 in her failed legal battle.

The government now has 30 days to execute Geronimo under a warrant issued on 5 August, with his death reportedly scheduled for this Thursday. 

Geronimo first tested positive for the disease in 2017 after being brought to the UK from New Zealand. Macdonald claims that both the first and subsequent test results were false positives, but has been refused permission to test him for a third time.

She has been “embroiled in a legal battle” with Defra for the past four years, but “the case has gained traction” following the failure of her High Court appeal, Sky News reports. 

Protesters and “a group of alpacas who have been trained to walk with people and are comfortable around crowds” have gathered this afternoon outside Defra’s headquarters, in Westminster, before marching to the gates of Downing Street, the broadcaster continues.

The “outpouring of support” has also seen almost 100,000 people signing a petition on change.org that describes Defra’s decision as an “abuse of power, position, the law, science, camelid owners and Geronimo”. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice remains unmoved, however. In an article published yesterday in The Mail on Sunday, Eustice warned that “Bovine TB is an insidious disease”.

“One of the lessons in the postwar years is that testing and removing infected livestock from herds is critical to eventual success,” wrote Eustice, who says that farmers “have to remove more than 500 cattle from herds due to infection in England alone” every week, on average. 

The “Enferplex test” used to check Geronimi for bTB had been “requested by the British Alpaca Society at the time” and was more than 99% accurate, he continued, with a “false positive” in only 0.34% of cases.

“Two consecutive positive test results is a very strong indicator of the presence of the disease,” Eustice added.

But Macdonald told The Times that the environment secretary was “totally ignorant of the scientific issues”. She said: “My mother asked me last night if Geronimo is going to be shot on her 84th birthday [today] by the government. What do I tell her?” 

According to The Sun, Macdonald is prepared to take a bullet to save her pet. “I can’t stand by and let my animal be killed and I’m willing to stand in the way of any gunman who comes to destroy Geronimo,” she said. 

She also told The Sunday Times that she would film “every moment” of the scheduled killing and upload it to social media, to ensure the world would “know the truth about what the UK government did”.

A string of celebrities including Absolutely Fabulous actor Joanna Lumley and naturalist Chris Packham are backing Macdonald. “When in doubt, don’t. So please spare Geronimo, as there is real doubt hanging over this death sentence,” said Lumley.

The prime minister’s father, Stanley Johnson, has also given his two cents on the matter. Writing for The Sun, he implored Eustice to “tear up that threatening letter” and “write another one, a nice friendly one”.

“Give Geronimo a new test,” he said. “That’s all Helen Macdonald wants. Is that too much to ask?”

As well as alpacas, badgers have been impacted by the fight against bTB. Mass culling of badgers has been taking place since 2013 in a bid to prevent the disease from spreading, but campaigners have described the policy as “senseless slaughter”. 

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