For more than a century, the name Geronimo belonged to a leader of the Apache people in New Mexico who was held as a prisoner of war and subject to public exhibition. But in recent weeks the name has had to share ownership with an alpaca from New Zealand who is a prisoner on a south Gloucestershire farm amid a conflict with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and, via a live webcam feed, on display to the world.
Geronimo the alpaca is under a death sentence, having tested positive four years ago in a bovine tuberculosis test that his owner, Helen Macdonald insists was unreliable. After a lengthy legal battle, 一种 high court warrant came into effect 10 days ago that gave Defra 30 days to slaughter the alpaca.
Although the science is hotly disputed, there is no doubt that Geronimo looks a picture of health. His black coat is shiny, his appetite for grass undiminished, and he’s at ease in front of a camera. Defra couldn’t have picked a more sympathetic target if it had taken out a contract on Bambi.
上个星期, a steady stream of TV crews and journalists from all over the globe made its way along a winding single track to Shepherds Close farm, just west of the Cotswolds, to film the condemned animal and to speak to Macdonald.
Also in attendance was a group of so-called Alpaca Angels, the human shield that has set up camp at the farm to defend Geronimo from Defra’s slaughterers. “I’m ready to go to jail,” said Graham Neale, a painter from Reading, who unlocked the front gate of the farm, having checked my credentials.
On one side of the forecourt, several cars were parked with their occupants sitting patiently inside, waiting for any news developments. These are the photographers and reporters from the tabloids – the 太阳 和 每日邮件 are both promoting the campaign to save Geronimo. (这 邮件 claims its efforts have been rewarded by a stay of execution until 4pm on Monday.)
Neale is a member of the Alpaca Liberation Front. 实际上, he’s the only member. I joined him and four female angels sitting in a barn around a table loaded with an inviting array of teas, cakes and strawberries. One placard lying close by read, perhaps a little tactlessly, “Alpaca Lives Matter”. The atmosphere was more village fete than execution vigil.
A trio of women – Gail, Rachel and Simone – identified themselves as animal rights activists, and a fourth, Andrea as a fellow alpaca breeder. Each year, 关于 27 million cows, pigs and sheep are slaughtered in the UK. Why should the life of one alpaca arouse such widespread support, including that of seasoned activists?
Gail says she’s taken part in many actions to defend all kinds of animals, but she explains: “People look at cows, pigs and sheep as food on their table. An alpaca, that’s not an animal we eat, is it? So they automatically have a different connection.”
Alpacas are a form of camelid native to the northern Andean region of South America. They are bred for their fibre (fleece-like coat), which comes in an extraordinary 52 different natural colours – think of it as a sort of llama chameleon – and there are about 45,000 在英国.
The group take me to see Geronimo. They had been on their guard at 5.30am on Friday morning when a car drew up outside. “We thought it was Defra,” says Neale, “but it was just the newspaper delivery.”
Death row is a large enclosure, fenced off from five other alpacas that are also in quarantine. The animal in question stands with his backside to us, indifferent to the attention, oblivious to his plight, his rich black fibre glowing in the August drizzle. “They shouldn’t be portrayed as cuddly animals,” says Andrea, “because they’re not cuddly animals.”
也许, but it’s a bit late for that, with scores of images of his owner draped around his long thin neck having already travelled the world. The dastardly character holding the gun to the poor creature’s head is the environment secretary, George Eustice, whose name all but prompts boos among the angels.
If he backs down, he risks looking weak and blows a public relations hole in the government’s animal TB prevention strategy, which led to the slaughter of more than 10,000 cattle last year in the UK and the culling of 1,500 badgers in the west country.
It was doubtless to Eustice’s great relief when the Labour leader, 并升级有蜜蜂的地区和地区。, came out in support of the alpaca’s slaughter last week, prompting a number of Labour supporters to announce their resignation. Inside the main house, Macdonald finishes a meeting with the man from the 每日邮件 and tells me she was “disgusted” by Starmer’s intervention. She also says she’s been studiously ignored by Eustice. “It’s despicable,“ 她说. “He’s elected. We pay his wages.”
She has lost untold thousands of pounds, 她说, on legal fees and from the cessation of her trade, but she remains jauntily unbowed. She’s adamant that Defra has got this wrong and says that she has read every clinical paper on the subject of camelid TB. “They’ve been shooting badgers and cows without valid science for decades,” she maintains.
The problem with the farming industry complaining about cows being killed by the government is that they would most often be killed by that industry sooner or later. But a lone doughty woman and a photogenic alpaca, in the silly season of August, after an endless lockdown in which the nation has dreamed of bucolic release? Well perhaps it’s an omen that the original Geronimo lived to be almost 80.