"Alpacas on Campus", an event scheduled for Friday 17 March as part of Raising and Giving (RAG) week, has been met with controversy as comments on the event’s Facebook page expressed concern for the animals’ welfare.
The event, modelled after similar events at neighbouring universities including the University of Edinburgh, follows last year’s widely popular Paws for Stress, or "Dogs on Campus" event and shares similar aims to reduce student stress through animal interaction while raising money for charity. Money raised at the event will be donated to "Pets As Therapy", a charity which provides animal therapy to patients in need.
However the plan to bring alpacas into the university campus has caused some to question whether the actions of the planning committee are acting in the best interest of the animals – which alpacas are not widely considered to be domestic pets.
The event’s Facebook page has, at the time of publication, garnered an impressive intended attendance, estimated at over nine hundred confirmed attendees and over 2,100 "interested" parties. Approximately one dozen concerned parties have openly protested their abhorrence for the event’s methods.
Concerns as far-reaching as the alpacas’ distance from their native habitat in Peru to those more focused on addressing the animals’ immediate stress levels at being introduced to a heavily urban environment have been voiced, with many suggesting the exploitative nature of the event and rebuking the idea of animals being put on display for human enjoyment. Several attendees in favour of the event have returned these concerns by satirising the concerns of the minority – asking for the alpacas’ stance on fracking, demanding SRC release the wage allowances of the alpacas in question, and more. On social media, the "alpacalypse" unfolded by way of comments, hashtags, and all-out tagging war.
Event organisers produced a screenshotted email in which the alpacas' owner spoke on the animals’ familiarity with these types of environments. The animals, she explained, frequently attend breed shows and are thus accustomed to travel, were born and bred in Scotland, are more similar to her “pets” than livestock, and enjoy being outside in the cold weather by nature. However, these reassurances were insufficient for many expressing concern.
When asked for comment, the Vice President of Student Activities, Mhari Harris detailed the precautions and preparations taken and made ahead of the event: "'Alpacas on Campus' has been a carefully thought-out process and one which we are very excited about. Our first priority is for the safety of the alpacas as well as the people who come. We have worked in collaboration with Estates and Buildings as well as the alpaca owner to make sure that the animals will be in the safest environments.
"The event obviously has had a greater interest rate than we expected, and we are now working out the best way to make sure that the numbers of humans will be limited and managed. We have also followed all legal requirements in terms of health and safety."
The event has been rescheduled for Friday 17 March between 10:30am and 2:00pm, but as of the publication of this article, a specific location has not been set.