Exotic and inquisitive, alpacas are charismatic pets and are prized for their luxurious fleeces. But an owner has warned that many alpaca keepers are in denial about the risk of bovine TB after she caught the potentially fatal disease from one of her animals.
Dianne Summers, a 51-year-old owner of 20 alpacas from Cornwall, warned that without the compulsory testing of alpacas bovine TB would “spread among our animals like wildfire”.
The first known person in Britain to contract bovine TB from alpacas, Summers fears that petting zoos could be “riddled” with the disease, posing a risk to the public, vets and other animals, and called on the government to close a loophole that allows alpacas, llamas and other camelids to escape being tested for bovine TB.
Alpacas are treated as low-risk animals in the transmission of bovine TB, but last month up to 500 alpacas were slaughtered by government vets after TB was detected on an alpaca farm in Burgess Hill, East Sussex. TB outbreaks have occurred in 58 alpaca herds – around 5% of the total – in the UK since 1999. There are more than 30,000 alpacas in Britain, including some which are regularly encountered by the public at country shows, and on open farms and walking trails.
According to the Health Protection Agency, the risk to the public of catching bovine TB – which constitutes less than 1% of the total number of human TB cases in the UK – is extremely low. But guidance from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to farmers warns that, unlike cattle, camelids can spit a mixture of gastric contents and saliva, which could spread the disease to humans.
The National Farmers Union said farmers were very concerned about the lack of regulation of TB in alpacas, which may spread the disease to other farm animals.