Two of Geronimo the alpaca's daughters and a grandson live on 

Bittersweet vindication: Helen told the world her alpaca Geronimo didn’t have TB but Government vets dragged him off for what she called a ‘state sponsored slaughter’ – but at least two daughters and a grandson live on

  • Yesterday, test results showed that Geronimo the alpaca didn’t have tuberculosis
  • Geronimo lives on now though through his two daughters and a grandson alpaca
  • Despite the negative test result, Helen Macdonald said she isn’t celebrating
  • Every morning Helen Macdonald opens the back door of her Gloucestershire farmhouse and looks out onto the empty field beyond.

    ‘Some days I think he’s still there, just out of my sightline,’ she says. ‘Then I have to confront the fact he’s gone all over again.’

    He, of course, being Geronimo, Helen’s adored eight-year-old chocolate alpaca who, for four years, grazed contentedly there until he was put down — though ‘executed’ is the word she feels is more apt — following a legal battle which gripped not only the UK but the entire world.

    Government vets claimed he had tuberculosis, while Helen vociferously disputed this, asserting that a validated test would have shown he was clear — and yesterday, as the Mail revealed, she was vindicated when test results on tissue samples taken from Geronimo showed no trace of it.

    It is a bittersweet moment, for no amount of exonerating test results can bring her beloved animal back. There’s only one thing that gives Helen a little solace. That’s the fact that something of ‘funny, happy, cheeky’ Geronimo does actually live on.

    Pictured: Helen Macdonald stands alongside Geronimo the alpaca who was sentenced to death earlier this year

    Pictured: Helen Macdonald stands alongside Geronimo the alpaca who was sentenced to death earlier this year

    Today, we can share the news that Geronimo sired calves (called cria) — two daughters and a grandson — what some might call his ‘Geroni-minis’.

    Before he came to the UK, Geronimo mated with two lady alpacas, producing females Nevalea La Cherie and London, the latter of which has since given birth herself to a healthy boy, Oakwood. ‘So Geronimo is a grandad,’ says Helen, 50, even now unable to use the past tense.

    And, even though she has been vindicated, there is no triumph in Helen’s voice when we speak in the aftermath of news of his negative test. ‘There’s no cause for celebration — how could there be? This result just showed what I have known all along: Geronimo never had TB.

    ‘I have always said this and I have never deviated, which is why I asked for another test before he was killed. But they wouldn’t listen,’ she says. ‘Now he is dead for no reason at all.’

    Government vets maintain that the test results do not mean the animal had been free of tuberculosis but Ms Macdonald labels his death on August 31 as ‘state-sponsored slaughter’.

    Footage of the day Geronimo was removed from his home by Defra officials, accompanied by dozens of police officers after they forced their way onto Helen’s farm, distressed animal lovers around the world.

    Pictured: Officials are seen in an animal pen alongside Geronimo the alpaca moments before taking him away on August 31, 2021

    Pictured: Officials are seen in an animal pen alongside Geronimo the alpaca moments before taking him away on August 31, 2021 

    ‘Geronimo was a lovely boy and no one should have had to witness a veterinary official drag him to his death,’ she says, her eyes filling with fresh tears at the memory.

    ‘He was taken in his prime by supposed experts who should have known better.

    ‘The way he was taken was horrific and defied basic decency and moral and ethical behaviour. That is why what happened touched such a chord with the public.’

    Certainly never before has an alpaca garnered such widespread fame: Helen received letters and emails from all over the world in support of her fight to save Geronimo. ‘He was special because people thought that he was theirs,’ she says. ‘People had this sense of outrage at what was happening, about the fact that people weren’t engaging reasonably.

    ‘I have had my door open for nearly five years asking people in Government to talk to me and everyone has been too frightened to walk through it. Instead, they have tried to bully me. And if they can do this to me then they can do this to other people.’

    Indeed, half of Geronimo’s shortened life — alpacas typically live to 20 — took place under a question mark. The pedigree beast, worth £15,000, had been earmarked for execution ever since he was brought to the UK aged four from his native New Zealand in August 2017 by Helen, who intended to introduce a new bloodline to the herd she keeps at her farm, using their wool to make luxury scarves and pashminas.

    Although he had tested negative for bovine tuberculosis (bTB) before he left in an internationally recognised test, Helen decided to give him an additional and newer voluntary blood test, administered by an external Government-approved company. She thought it was the right and responsible thing to do. Instead, it was the start of a legal and ethical nightmare when this test showed antibodies to TB.

    Helen believes it was a ‘false positive’ because Geronimo had been ‘primed’, meaning he had already been injected with a small amount of bovine tuberculosis, gauging immune response, twice within ten months. A subsequent test also produced a positive.

    So her fight became the right for another straightforward blood test — with no prior ‘priming’ — which was denied. ‘We tried everything to get officials and ministers to see reason.

    Vain battle: Helen with her beloved Geronimo

    Vain battle: Helen with her beloved Geronimo

    ‘But at every juncture they just kept saying that he failed these tests and that if they tested him again and he didn’t have it, it would be a false negative and would not prove anything.

    ‘This isn’t rational behaviour and it’s certainly not scientific. No test is perfect but all I wanted was a dialogue. Instead, I was confronted with brick wall after brick wall.’

    Helen’s legal battle ended at the High Court in July, when a judge issued a final warrant to allow Government vets access to Helen’s property to remove Geronimo for execution, although by then the battle for the public’s hearts and minds had been won.

    Around 147,000 people put their name to a petition begging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to save him, while celebrities from Chris Packham to Joanna Lumley also voiced their support for Helen’s cause. It all ended in failure.

    At the end of August, Government vets arrived at Helen’s farm in Wotton-under-Edge and a clearly distressed Geronimo could be seen being dragged by a cow rope into the back of a trailer.

    Helen can hardly bear to recall it. ‘It causes me huge anguish to think about his final hours,’ she says. ‘At the very least they could have brought an appropriate head collar and they could have tried to remove him calmly.

    Geronimo’s legacy: Oakwood, left, and London

    Geronimo’s legacy: Oakwood, left, and London

    ‘Instead, they brought a rope and dragged him in panicked desperation into the back of a trailer. He could not have feasibly sat down with the rope tied so short.

    ‘I can’t even think about him in the truck — I have nightmares about it. As far as I am concerned, he was tortured.’ Helen says that post-mortem tests carried out in September showed the presence of blood cells in Geronimo’s airways, indicating that he had suffered trauma.

    What they did not show were any lesions on the lungs or respiratory tract, the most common place for manifestation of bovine tuberculosis, although Defra said its vets had discovered a number of ‘TB-like lesions’ in the liver and lymph nodes. However, only atypical lesions were documented on the pathology report. Defra also say that the purpose of the recent tests was not to confirm whether infection was present or to validate previous test results, but to identify which strain of the disease is present and help inform decisions on testing other animals in the herd.

    It has taken a further 12 weeks for results of the latest set of tests to emerge, among them on bacteriological cultures from tissues samples taken by APHA (the Animal and Plant Health Agency).

    Helen learned the news in an impersonal email. ‘No one has ever done me the courtesy of making a personal phone call to me, even though everyone involved in this is only too aware of the distress I have been in,’ she says.

    The email informed her that the ‘culture’ result for the ‘above camelid’ [the biological family alpaca belong to] was attached.

    His other girl: Sash-wearing Nevalea

    His other girl: Sash-wearing Nevalea

    She admits that she opened it with some trepidation. In the event, the message could not be clearer. It read: ‘M.bovis (mycobacterium bovis) not detected.’

    ‘In other words, no TB’ says Helen, of the Latin name. ‘But of course, I already knew that. On one level I felt flat. Because I knew that is what it would say.

    ‘But then all the anger came again. They have slaughtered a healthy animal and they knew it, that’s the worst thing.’

    She adds: ‘They just tried to wear me down and tried to convince me I was wrong and when that didn’t work, they tried to bully and threaten me.

    ‘They were always going to kill him — I believe they had decided that already — and they made it impossible to do it otherwise.’

    Helen believes it goes on today: after the latest results, Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss issued a statement pointing out that the animal tested positive ‘on two separate occasions using highly specific tests’ and claiming that ‘due to the complexity’ of tuberculosis, testing had not enabled them to understand how the animal ‘became infected in the first place’.

    Helen says: ‘She is still insisting that Geronimo did in fact have the disease. Not only is she saying that just because we don’t find disease doesn’t mean he wasn’t infected, but she is saying he was infected because a test that wasn’t validated confirms disease.’

    Helen’s outrage and grief is shared by many: at home she has boxes of hand-drawn cards sent by children touched by Geronimo’s plight. ‘I’ve also had heart-breaking letters from parents who say their children cried when they heard Geronimo had been killed,’ she says. She received a similar outpouring yesterday when news of the latest test results broke. ‘I‘ve had emails from all over the world from people who are angry and upset by what has happened,’ she says. Nonetheless, if not a happy ending, one element to this sorry tale gives Helen hope.

    While Geronimo did not get chance to breed in the UK as Helen had intended — he spent every day of his life here in quarantine, segregated from Helen’s herd — it is a different story over in New Zealand where his family live on.

    Could she contemplate bringing his grandson or one of his offspring over here? She is too emotional to commit to such a decision, but nor is she ruling it out.

    ‘I trust the breeder so I would definitely go back to that same farm and there is something lovely about the idea of that connection with Geronimo,’ she says.

    For now, she has more pressing matters, not least deciding whether to sue the Government.

    ‘One thing I do know,’ she says. ‘People should not be treated like this. What has happened didn’t need to happen. It has caused huge distress and is plain wrong.’