Nils Lantzke with his alpaca, Forrest Gump. Photo: Jay Cronan
Nils Lantzke says there'd be ''a few dead humans'' before he'd ever see his beloved alpaca Honeycomb served up on a plate.
Friday's news that the Royal Canberra Show will this year feature an alpaca meat stall for the first time sparked strong debate.
Some argued that alpaca meat was a staple in South America and should be considered as suitable for eating as lamb or beef.
Others, like Mr Lantzke, whose pet Honeycomb has for many years visited patients in hospitals, believes the animals' distinctive temperament and appearance should rule them off-limits.
''These people who want to indulge in eating alpaca should have a look at them being killed at the abattoir,'' said Mr Lantzke, a vegetarian. ''They are a cute animal and they are phenomenal in their protective nature … Honeycomb would lie down next to a patient's bed, saying that if anyone wants to hurt this person, they have to cross me first.''
At the show, on February 22-24, alpaca meat will be served as burgers, sausages, smoked with avocado spread and on sticks with minted yoghurt. While they are bred mainly for their fleece, in countries such as Peru and Ecuador the high-altitude animal is a common food source.
But in Australia they are more of a novelty and owners are more likely to have emotional connections to them, whether as guardian animals for their sheep flocks, or as hobby farm pets.
Mr Lantzke keeps three alpacas in his Giralang yard. Honeycomb is something of a Canberra identity, having been transported to schools and hospital visits in a tiny red Mazda with his head poking out a side window.
Establishing their own cute credentials are Forrest Gump, who got his name after needing braces to correct leg problems, and Mimosa, whose eyes are ''just like that girl from the Les Miserables poster. I'm dead against [eating them]. They are like children to me,'' Mr Lantzke said.
''There'd be a few dead people before Honeycomb went to the shop, I can tell you that.''
Sutton alpaca breeder Glynda Bluhm says she would try it. ''I've never eaten mine. At a minimum of $350 per animal, that makes an expensive chop,'' she said. ''But now it's at Canberra Show, I'll be looking for it and trying it. I'm not offended by the process, I'm glad I don't have to be part of it.''