Fresh hopes that Gloucestershire's death row alpaca Geronimo could be saved

Geronimo with his owner, Helen. Credit: PA

There are hopes the life of a Gloucestershire alpaca condemned to die could be saved after lawyers representing his owner offered the Government a chance to "save face".

They have written to Environment Secretary George Eustice to suggest under the Animal Health Act he has the power to commute the destruction order and instead allow Geronimo, who lives on a farm in Wickwar, to be studied for research.

Geronimo has lived at Helen Macdonald's South Gloucestershire farm since 2017.

Upon his arrival in to the UK from New Zealand, Helen had him voluntarily tested for Bovine Tuberculosis following which he returned a positive result.

Helen disputed the result and stated he had been injected with too much tuberculin prior to his departure from New Zealand. Geronimo then failed a second test, and his owner has vowed that she will never let him be put down.

Jan Mugerwa, who represents the alpaca's owner, said if the Government accepted this latest proposal it would prevent the animal's destruction, but also aid scientific research into bovine TB in alpacas.

Protesters outside Defra's headquarters in London, fighting to save Geronimo. Credit: PA

"Under the Animal Health Act 1981 the minister can set aside a destruction order and order instead that the animal be kept instead for observational treatment for research purposes," Mr Mugerwa, of Olephant Solicitors, said.

"We are saying there are problems with this test. There are nine other alpacas who tested positive were killed and during post-mortem examination - no sign of TB.

"We are saying this is an opportunity to research this properly. The Government has said its top three priorities for its tuberculosis strategy was improving diagnostic testing.

"This is the perfect opportunity to do that."

Mr Mugerwa said Geronimo could be allowed to stay in isolation at Ms Macdonald's farm in Wickwar, South Gloucestershire, and be available to research or could move to a specialist facility.

"Alternatively, there are other research facilities that may be willing to have him. We are still waiting for confirmation and further details on that," he said.

"Or he could be at a Government facility. There is one at Weybridge, which, ironically, if he was slaughtered, is where his body would be taken.

"They have a facility to keep him in isolation and observe him for research.

"That's what we have suggested as a potential way through this. He (the minister) does not have to lose face by agreeing to a re-test and Geronimo survives.

"If one of their priorities is to improve diagnostic testing, this is a golden opportunity to do that."

Helen Macdonald in the bio secure pen with Geronimo. Credit: PA

Asked if he thought the Government would take up the offer, Mr Mugerwa said: "After four years of not getting anywhere I will of course be sceptical, but the dynamic has changed now because of all the pressure from the media and the public generally.

"Hopefully that will cause a change of attitude. It's not really a legal question because the minister has the power to do it.

"Is he going to take this opportunity to get out a corner that, frankly, they have backed themselves into?

"The concern is that when people do that, they get so invested in that decision they don't really question what the right thing to do is."

Defra confirmed receipt of the letter, but did not comment on its contents.

Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: "As a veterinary professional for over 20 years, I know the devastation that TB can cause farmers, their communities and their animals.

"While I sympathise with Ms Macdonald's situation, we need to follow the scientific evidence and cull animals that have tested positive for TB, to minimise spread of this insidious disease, and ultimately to eradicate the biggest threat to animal health in this country.

"The tests used on Geronimo were developed for use on alpacas and are highly specific - the chances of a false positive are significantly less than one percent and we have tested him twice.

"Not just for the benefit of our farming industry but to avoid more TB cases in humans, our disease control measures must be applied."