The way Geronimo was dragged from his pen and bundled into the back of horsebox to be driven away and killed by Government vets has been condemned as “disgraceful and abhorrent” by alpaca experts.
Police officers and staff from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) arrived at Helen Macdonald’s farm near Wickwar, South Gloucestershire, on Tuesday morning.
Campaigners, who had been camped out at the property for weeks, loudly protested as the Defra staff, wearing overalls, masks and goggles, rounded up the alpaca in his enclosure.
Geronimo, who had twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis, was tied with white rope before being scanned for a microchip then pulled through a field to a waiting trailer. During this time, experts say they can see him ‘gasping for air’ as they questioned if the right equipment was used.
Less than 90 mins after leaving the property, Defra confirmed the animal had been euthanised by staff from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha) – executing a court warrant that was due to expire on September 4.
Sue Loach, chair of the British Alpaca Society, has written a letter of complaint to officials from Defra and Apha, as well as sending copies to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary George Eustice.
They are demanding those responsible for Tuesday’s operation be suspended and a formal investigation launched.
The society represents 2,000 members in the UK and is responsible for maintaining the records of the 40,000 registered alpacas.
Ms Loach described the treatment of Geronimo as “disgraceful and abhorrent” and said vets had a “duty of care” to Geronimo to “ensure he was handled and euthanised with a minimum of distress, neither of which they achieved”.
She added: “The lack of knowledge as to the correct way to handle alpacas was startling and totally inexcusable, dragging him kicking and screaming on to a trailer then tying him up with a poorly fitted cattle halter; he was screaming his distress call as he was brutally loaded which is evidence of how terrified he was – in front of the world’s media.
“Alpacas are semi-obligate nasal breathers and as such should have headcollars correctly sized and fitted so as not to obstruct their breathing, it is very evident from the footage that this didn’t happen – Geronimo was seen gasping for air.
“It is also well documented that alpacas sit down when being transported, yet Geronimo was tied up like a horse.”
Ms Loach also questioned whether the animal was humanely killed given the way he was led away from the farm.
“If arrived at his final destination still alive and not strangled or suffocated, how can we be sure he was humanely euthanised?” she wrote.
“If basic handling was so appalling how can anyone be sure he was euthanised correctly and in a calm and dignified matter?
“Given Apha officers knew that they were going to be filmed and images shared globally, we beg the question how much worse would the handling have been had they not been filmed?
“Their behaviour was disgusting, repulsive and cruel and in total disregard for Geronimo’s welfare and we would demand a full and formal public investigation to be initiated immediately.
“The actions of Defra representatives seizing Geronimo was unacceptable for officers who are charged with animal welfare.
“If this is the level of ‘professionalism’ shown by Government officials in difficult circumstances, then something is very, very wrong.
“The handling of Geronimo was abhorrent, brutal and is not deemed acceptable behaviour by such officers.”
Ms Macdonald was campaigning for the destruction to be halted after insisting the bovine tuberculosis tests previously carried out returned false positives.
She had wanted him to be tested for a third time or allowed to live to aid research into the disease.
The veterinary nurse argued the Enferplex test was fundamentally flawed and said Geronimo tested positive because he had repeatedly been primed with tuberculin – a purified protein derivative of bovine TB bacteria.
Her plea for an independent witness to be present when a post-mortem examination was carried was also rejected.
Ms Macdonald, who imported Geronimo from New Zealand in 2017, called for the Environment Secretary to resign.
A protest is also planned outside Defra HQ in central London next Wednesday.
Dr Iain McGill, veterinary scientific adviser to Ms Macdonald, said: “There were extreme animal welfare issues, with distressed vocalisations and shrieking by Geronimo, a sustained pursuit around the paddock by multiple police officers and Defra staff, followed by him being dragged on a rope towards his final tethering alone and terrified in a horse box.
“This is simply not acceptable for the veterinary profession in the 21st century and I feel very sorry for the veterinary surgeons who were forced to commit those actions by senior figures at Defra.”
Dominic Dyer, of the Born Free Foundation, added: “This abhorrent act has shocked the nation and undermines any attempt by the Government to claim it is putting animal welfare at the top of its policy agenda.
“Defra has effectively bullied and intimidated Helen Macdonald into submission and has killed her precious alpaca, rather than address the serious issues she has raised.”
Downing Street expressed sympathy for Ms Macdonald, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman saying it was “highly distressing” for people to lose animals to tuberculosis.
More than 27,000 cattle were slaughtered last year to curb the spread of the infectious disease, Defra added.
Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: “This is a terribly sad situation and our sympathies remain with all those affected by this devastating disease.”