Row erupts over claims Geronimo the alpaca ‘did not have TB’

A row has erupted over claims and counter-claims that Geronimo the alpaca did not have bovine TB.

A number of reports on national newspaper websites and by supporters of the eight-year-old alpaca claimed that a post-mortem examination revealed no signs of TB.

Geronimo’s owner, Helen Macdonald, requested a copy of the preliminary findings of the results of the post-mortem examination after the animal was removed by government vets from her farm in Wickar, south Gloucestershire, and humanely destroyed on 31 August.

See also: Geronimo the alpaca put down by Defra officials

Lawyers acting on behalf of the veterinary nurse said they had received a letter from Defra’s legal department, which detailed the findings of the initial examination on the alpaca.

The lawyers said in a statement: “As reviewed by Dr Iain McGill and Dr Bob Broadbent, the preliminary gross post-mortem findings are negative for visible lesions typical of bovine tuberculosis.

“For clarity there are no white or cream caseous, enlarged abscesses typical for bovine TB in alpacas whether in the lungs, bronchial, mediastinal or retropharyngeal lymph nodes.”

Ms Macdonald has called for Defra secretary George Eustice to resign if it is proven that Geronimo did not have TB.

Speaking to Farmers Weekly while attending a protest against the killing of Geronimo outside the Defra offices in London on Wednesday (8 September), Dr McGill challenged Defra chief vet Christine Middlemiss, or any of her team, to a debate on the issue.

Defra challenged

“No TB lesions were found on Geronimo in the post-mortem examination,” said Dr McGill.

“I challenge Defra to come up with any evidence that any of the lesions they found were proven to be TB positive. I would stake my veterinary career on it that they weren’t.”

Dr McGill said data shows that use of the Enferplex test after an alpaca is primed with tuberculin injections reveals that up to 80% of tests result in false positives.

“If you come along and give a cattle dose of tuberculin to an alpaca, which is obviously a lot smaller than a cow, that is going to trigger the antibody levels.

“And if you give repeated doses of tuberculin, as was the case with Geronimo, that is going to give a positive TB result.”

Dr McGill said Defra should have “come clean” that priming an alpaca with tuberculin injections prior to using Enferplex to test for TB has a high chance of returning a false positive result.

Defra has confirmed that a post-mortem examination has been carried out by experienced veterinary pathologists from the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency. 

Defra chief vet Christine Middlemiss confirmed: “We have completed the initial post-mortem examination of Geronimo.  

“A number of TB-like lesions were found, and in line with standard practice these are now undergoing further investigation.  

“These tests include the developing of bacteriological cultures from tissue samples, which usually takes several months.

“We would expect to complete the full post-mortem and culture process by the end of the year.”  

Four-year campaign

Geronimo was imported from New Zealand into the UK in 2017 and following his arrival, he twice tested positive for bovine TB and had been kept in isolation ever since.

Ms Macdonald insisted that the results were “false positives” because Geronimo had been “primed” with bovine tuberculin before being tested, which Defra says can improve the sensitivity of the blood test.

She had led a four-year campaign to keep the alpaca alive.

But Defra secretary George Eustice said Geronimo was tested using the Enferplex blood test, which is voluntary in alpacas.

He described the test as “a highly specific and reliable test”, with more than 99% accuracy.