Members in the Media

The Wild Science of How Geronimo the Alpaca Captured Our Hearts

He spends his remaining days lolling around, oblivious to his fate. Faced with an upcoming death sentence, his only crime is that he has tested positive for an infectious disease. Meanwhile, a controversial government agency has a warrant for his destruction which could be executed at any moment. Pleas from his loving family are ignored as hundreds of thousands of well-wishers and activists rally to his defence.

This is Geronimo the alpaca. It’s the fluffy animal caught at the centre of a lengthy legal battle, thrust across the headlines, capturing the imagination of Britain. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has ordered the animal to be put down after he twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis. It’s the same respiratory disease which means tens of thousands of badgers are culled every year, in order to prevent its spread to cattle.

Yet this one alpaca has had his furry face splashed across tabloid front pages, and has even sparked protests at Downing Street. Why? Blame our own biological drivers. “If an animal looks like a baby we swoon,” explains Robin Dunbar, anthropologist and emeritus professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford. “It’s features like big eyes and a high forehead, meaning the eyes are in the centre of the face. You can see this in the design of teddy bear faces. They started out very bear-like, then became baby-like in shape over time.”

Read the whole story: WIRED

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