They stood on guard patiently, occasionally resting in deckchairs and, when the showers moved in, scuttling for shelter in farm buildings, but a hardy band of animal-lovers insisted they would put their bodies in the way of anyone who came for Geronimo the alpaca.
A human shield, dubbed the “alpaca angels”, has been thrown around Geronimo, who has been condemned to death by the UK government having twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis.
The government has a fight on its hands. Almost 100,000 people have signed a petition against the order and on Monday, Geronimo supporters marched on Downing Street, calling for the decision to be reversed.
At Geronimo’s home, a farm in rolling countryside just north of Bristol, a gang of protectors turned up to defend him.
Louise Jones, 57, a carer and a school cleaner, from Pucklechurch, South Gloucestershire, said: “Hopefully the more people are here, the harder it will make it for Defra [the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs] to get in.
“I’ve been here since about 6.15am, but some people stayed here in their cars overnight, and there was one guy camping out here in a tent. I think this is going to be a long haul now for a lot of people – I’ll be here every day now, fitting it around work.”
Pete Martin, 59, a former chairman of the Badger Trust from Tetbury, Gloucestershire, accused Defra of being “spiteful” and “belligerent”. He said: “Geronimo is bouncy, he’s healthy. It’s just bad science.”
Geronimo’s owner, Helen Macdonald, who imported him from New Zealand, believes the tests are returning false positives, but has been refused permission to have him tested a third time.
Last week, she lost her final appeal to save the animal at the high court in London and a warrant has effectively been signed for his destruction.
Macdonald said she was “incredibly grateful” for the support she had received. “It’s a really unique case, but it’s bringing everyone together. There’s lots of people getting behind this. Ultimately it’s about government behaviour. They’ve created this situation where we’re at a horrific impasse. I’m still here and Geronimo is still here, and I’m holding them to account.”
Macdonald has been fighting for Geronimo for four years. “Four years of my life have been overtaken by this farce – but I’m going to stick to it.”
And how is Geronimo coping with his newfound celebrity status? “He’s been a bit grumpy with all the attention,” she said. “I think it’s been a bit much for him and he wants to get back to a quiet life.”
Asked if Boris Johnson had a message for the protesters, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “We know how distressing losing animals is for anyone. That’s why the environment secretary has looked at this extremely carefully, indeed multiple times over a number of years and interrogated all the evidence. The fact remains that Geronimo has sadly tested positive twice, using a highly specific, reliable and validated test.”
A government source said there was no rowing back on the decision about Geronimo’s fate as it would set a bad precedent when farmers have had to deal with the slaughter of many thousands of animals with bovine TB.