Geronimo the alpaca has been killed by government vets “to prevent the spread of disease”.
The animal was put down after being taken from its farm in Gloucestershire, days before a destruction warrant ordering its death was due to expire on 4 September.
The alpaca had twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis and was at the centre of a campaign and legal battle to save its life.
A statement by the government said: “bTB-positive alpaca known as ‘Geronimo’ has been euthanised to prevent the spread of disease.”
Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss called it a “terribly sad situation” and said “our sympathies remain with all those affected by this devastating disease”.
She added: “No one wants to have to cull infected animals if it can be avoided, but we need to follow the scientific evidence and cull animals that have tested positive for bTB to minimise spread of this insidious disease and ultimately eradicate the biggest threat to animal health in this country.
“Not only is this essential to protect the livelihoods of our farming industry and rural communities, but it is also necessary avoid more TB cases in humans.”
Geronimo’s owner Helen Macdonald, who disputes the animal had the disease, said she feels “betrayed by this country” following the culling of her alpaca.
“My understanding was that [government officials] had the right to come and destroy Geronimo however they felt appropriate,” she said.
“They did not have the right to drag him into a horsebox and drive him away, on his own, without his companions. They rounded up the rest of them and stressed them all out, then they dragged and took him away.
“That’s not animal welfare, that’s animal cruelty.”
Downing Street has expressed sympathy for the animal and its owner.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “It’s obviously highly distressing for someone to lose animals to TB and that’s a situation that farmers sadly have to face.
“Our sympathies are with Ms Macdonald and any others that are affected by this terrible disease.”
Around 20 Avon and Somerset Police officers arrived at the site in Wickwar, South Gloucestershire at 10.45am this morning, alongside three people dressed in blue overalls, masks and goggles.
A trailer left the farm at 11.20am and, by 12.40pm, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that the animal had been euthanised by staff from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
Other alpacas on the farm, which are not in the same pen, gathered nearby after the officers arrived before running off to another part of the farm.
After Geronimo was taken away Ms Macdonald said she was “absolutely devastated”. She was not present when the animal was removed.
“I would have been prosecuted for obstruction if I failed to catch Geronimo myself,” she said.
“I am not going to put my hands on a healthy animal and allow the government to murder him.”
She claimed the government manipulated Geronimo’s tests “to suit their agenda”, adding that she was “absolutely disgusted” with them.
Supporters have been camping out at the farm for weeks in case officials from defra arrived to destroy the alpaca.
Some spoke to officers this morning. Liz Stacey was briefly arrested after spraying officers with a water pistol, but was quickly de-arrested.
She told Sky News: “The police arrived in force. It was a totally disproportionate… they were determined to carry out that this heinous crime, you know, there was no way that Geronimo had TB.
What is Bovine TB and how many animals are culled because of it?
Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) is an infectious disease that mainly impacts cattle.
According to the government, it is one of the most significant challenges that the farming sector faces, costing taxpayers more than £100m each year.
It is caused by a bacterium which can also infect and cause disease in badgers, deer, goats, pigs, badgers, camelids (llamas and alpacas), and other mammals, including humans, under certain conditions.
The disease is detected either on farms through skin tests of cattle or in slaughterhouses through post-mortem meat inspection.
According to Defra figures, in the 12 months to March 2021, 28, 356 TB incidents were detected in England, 227 in Scotland and 10,258 in Wales.
The Animal and Plant Agency said in 2020 alone, more than 27,000 cattle had to be slaughtered to curb the spread of the disease in England.
Badgers make up a large source of the disease. Controversially, they have been culled in England since 2013 under a scheme due to last until 2025. According to The Badger Trust, 140,000 have been killed to date.
Other animals with the disease make up a much smaller proportion of those killed. According to figures from 2018, 105 camelids, six sheep, 99 goats, eight pigs and 10 deer were destroyed.
“For four years [he’s been a] healthy, happy animal on this farm. And it was just disgusting.”
A force spokesman said: “We can confirm officers are in attendance at a farm in the Wickwar area of South Gloucestershire this morning to support the Animal and Plant Health Agency, who are executing a court warrant.
“We’ll always support our partner agencies to carry out their lawful duties, and our role is to prevent a breach of the peace and to ensure public safety is protected.”
Ms Macdonald’s legal fight to save her animal has been ongoing since the alpaca first tested positive for bovine tuberculosis in September 2017.
She argued that the Enferplex test used on Geronmio was fundamentally flawed and said it tested positive because it had repeatedly been primed with tuberculin – a purified protein derivative of bovine TB bacteria.
The veterinary nurse, who farms alpacas at her home, received support from around the world – with more than 140,000 people signing a petition against Geronimo’s destruction.
Earlier this month, a High Court judge refused her lawyer’s application for a temporary injunction to stop the destruction order and reopen the case.
As well as alpacas, badgers have been a victim of the fight against bovine TB, with mass culling employed to stop the spread since 2013, sparking a huge public backlash.
Defra said a post-mortem examination of Geronimo will now be carried out by veterinary pathologists from APHA, followed by a bacteriological culture of selected tissue samples, which can take up to three months to process.
However, Ms Macdonald wants Defra to allow an independent witness at the alpaca’s post-mortem examination to confirm whether the animal had bovine tuberculosis.
Meanwhile, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told reporters: “Well, for all of us who love animals, of course it is very sad to see any animal have to be put down in this manner.
“But it is really important that we uphold rules to keep TB at bay in this country because that is the way we will protect many, many more animals and livestock across the country.”