Afghan animals rescued by Pen Farthing ‘could pass diseases to humans’

The ex-Marine controversially brought back 173 stray cats and dogs from Kabul following the sweeping Taliban takeover of Afghanistan when US troops were withdrawn

Several of the rescue animals airlifted out of Kabul by an ex-Marine were infected with diseases that could be passed to humans, government sources have been quoted as fearing.

Pen Farthing fled Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in August, taking with him more than 170 animals from his Nowzad rescue shelter.

Although the last UK civilian-only flight left before his chartered plane, Mr Farthing was accused of having “taken up too much time” of senior commanders “when they should be focused on dealing with the humanitarian crisis”.

He was also criticised for leaving an expletive-laden message for a government aide as he sought to place his staff and pets on a flight out of Afghanistan.

Now it is has been reported that some animals on the airlift were infected with Brucella canis, a bacterial infection that can cause spontaneous abortions in affected animals. In rare cases, it can be passed to humans, the Mail on Sunday reports.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “We have some of the strongest biosecurity and safety controls in the world to help protect people and animals against diseases coming into the country.

“Rabies is endemic in Afghanistan and there are other diseases of dogs and cats which are not present in the UK, which can be fatal to both humans and animals.

“We can confirm 12 dogs and two cats have been released to Nowzad having completed the necessary treatment process.

“The remaining animals are being cared for in secure facilities and will be released when their quarantine ends or when they are compliant.”

A Defra official had previously been quoted as saying that the airlifted animals could be “destroyed on arrival” in the UK “if they turn out to be riddled with disease”.

As one Whitehall official put it, “it will be Geronimo the alpaca on speed”, referring to the alpaca who was killed by authorities in August after a four-year battle to save him.

Mr Farthing’s Operation Ark campaign to get workers and animals from the Nowzad shelter to the UK caused controversy as well as a huge amount of public support.

His flight did not carry his staff and dependents from the Kabul shelter but the ex-Marine was able to evacuate his animals.

At the time, he described the experience as “heartbreaking” and said he had “mixed emotions” about leaving the crisis-stricken country as his staff were being “turned around at gunpoint by the Taliban”.

The Royal Marine veteran claimed shelter staff had encouraged him to leave alone with the animals, while they pursued other avenues to leave the country.

After arriving back to the UK, he focused on helping evacuate 68 Nowzad animal shelter staff and family members, including 25 children and one newborn baby, from Afghanistan.

In September, he said he was “so bloody happy” that staff had managed to arrive in Pakistan.

In response to the Defra announcement on Sunday, Mr Farthing said: “The Nowzad charity has always been fully compliant with the regulations as laid out by Defra for the import of dogs from Afghanistan.

“If further testing is needed currently beyond what is normally required for entry to the UK, then our charity will be more than happy for those tests to be carried out by Defra.

“We are happy to report the first batch of 12 dogs and two cats were given the all-clear last week. The remainder will continue with their predetermined quarantine as per Defra regulations for entry to the UK.”