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The Editor’s Desk: Humans behaving baa-dly

Fiona on the beach where she had lived, stranded, for at least two years before being rescued in October of this year. (Photo credit: The Sheep Game/Facebook)

In these tumultuous times, we can all use a good news story, and one that seemed to fit the bill came out of Britain recently when Fiona, described as “the world’s loneliest sheep”, was rescued from the base of a cliff where she had apparently been stranded on her own for at least two years.

In 2021 she was spotted by Jillian Turner, who was paddling along the coast of Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands with her kayak club. Fiona was on a shingle beach at the bottom of a stretch of steep, rocky coastline, and Turner says that as they paddled past the ewe kept pace with them, calling out, until she couldn’t go any further. “She finally turned back, looking defeated,” said Turner, who assumed that the sheep would go back to wherever she had come from.

Fiona after being rescued and shorn of her massive fleece. (Photo credit: The Sheep Game/Facebook)

However, in October of this year Turner made the same kayak trip, and was horrified to see the animal — now with a terribly overgrown fleece that was touching the ground at the back — apparently still stranded

“She called out on our approach and once again followed the group along the shore jumping from rock to rock, calling to us the whole way,” Turner said, describing the experience as “heart-rending”.

“We honestly thought she might make her way back up that first year. The poor ewe has been on her own for at least two years. For a flock animal that has to be torture, and she seemed desperate to make contact with us on the two occasions we’ve gone past her.”

Turner had tried to get help for the ewe after she first spotted it, but the various agencies she contacted said there was nothing they could do. When she went public with the sheep’s plight in October, however, a group of five farmers assembled some heavy equipment and managed to haul the ewe — who had been named Fiona — up the steep slope from the beach. She was in good condition, all things considered, and the rescuers announced that after being checked over (and shorn), Fiona would be rehabilitated before being released at Dalscone Farm Fun, a farm park that is open to the public.

As I said, a good news story, right? However, eagle-eyed readers will have spotted the word “seemed” in the first sentence, and will be murmuring “Uh-oh; what went wrong, then?”

Nothing, as far as Fiona is concerned. She’s healthy, safe, and presumably no longer lonely. After her rescue, though, police had to be called to Dalscone Farm Fun, after animal rights activists from the group Animal Rising were accused of intimidating staff during what was described as a “peaceful protest”. It seems that members of Animal Rising had intended to rescue Fiona, and had spent three days scaling the cliff to build trust with the animal. They said they had an agreement with the landowner to rescue Fiona and take her to an animal sanctuary near Glasgow.

However, when the group left to fetch supplies, they claim that the landowner broke the agreement and brought in the farmers, with the rival rescuers smuggling the sheep out. The activists said their protest was over the fact that they did not feel that a “petting zoo” was the best place for Fiona, and apologized if staff at Dalscone had felt stressed or intimidated. Dalscone Farm manager Ben Best, however, said staff had found the visit “scary”, and claimed that the farm intended to do “the right thing” by Fiona, adding that she is now in a secret, secure location until her rescuers feel it is safe to move her.

So we have two groups of people, each trying to accomplish the same goal and each (in their own eyes) doing the right thing by Fiona, unable to work together and creating a situation where people felt intimidated, accusations flew, and police had to get involved. If Fiona had any idea of what was going on, she might prefer to be back on the beach, away from humans again. We can be the best at times, but we can also be the absolute worst.

Barbara Roden

About the Author: Barbara Roden

I joined Black Press in 2012 working the Circulation desk of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal and edited the paper during the summers until February 2016.
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