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Hundreds of students join llama love-in as finals near

Hundreds relax and bond with the llamas before finals

A student gets nuzzled by one of the six llamas at Llamapalooza. (UC Berkeley photo by Tonya Becerra)
UC Berkeley students were able to de-stress before finals on UC Berkeley’s Memorial Glade. (UC Berkeley video by Perla Shaheen)

Llamapalooza, UC Berkeley’s first-ever llama festival, was a llama love-in, with hundreds of students petting, grooming, feeding, hugging and taking selfies with the animals on Friday on Memorial Glade.

Quinoa, Putukusi, Yanantine, Amigo, Wykee and Tombo had a good time, too. The tall, fleecy animals with banana-shaped ears got their fill of carrots and gamely participated in an obstacle course, weaving around traffic delineators and even clearing a low hurdle at the finish line.

If the llamas got tired, they just folded up their legs and plopped down. Tombo chose to do so halfway through the obstacle course, so a few students cozied up to him on the grass, resting their heads against his long, furry neck.

“The students are sensing the llamas’ magic,” said George “Geo” Caldwell, who brought the animals to Berkeley from his Llamas of Circle Home ranch in Sonora. “And when the love starts going back and forth, it’s the real thing.”

A student navigates the Llamapalooza obstacle course with one of six llamas brought to campus from the Sierra foothills. (UC Berkeley photo by Tonya Becerra)

Ana Mancia, the ASUC’s official “llama coordinator,” put together the student government-funded festival, building upon visits to campus that she’s arranged for the llamas each semester for several years. “I wanted the llamas to reach as many students as possible,” she said of Llamapalooza. “There is a very special connection between students and llamas here.”

The smart, sensitive members of the camel family help ease the stress students feel preparing for finals, Mancia added. Spring semester classes ended Friday. Next week is Reading/Review/Recitation Week, followed by finals week, May 7 to 11. The llamas also show up for Suicide Awareness Week.

Ana Mancia and llama

Ana Mancia, a junior, is the ASUC’s official “llama coordinator.” (UC Berkeley photo by Tonya Becerra)

Several graduating seniors arrived at the glade on Friday wearing some of their regalia. “Llama selfies are a rite of passage here at UC Berkeley,” said Mancia. “If you graduate without a selfie,…you really didn’t go here.”

Also at the festival was a student group, Children of the Andes, that sold Peruvian crafts, including llama key chains. And Fred Clarke Alvarez, a Peruvian musician and a friend of Caldwell’s, played an Andean flute called a quena, as much for the llamas as for the crowd. “The llamas are very curious about the music,” he said. “All the females gather around me at Geo’s farm to listen.”

Ten students were trained to be caregivers for the llamas at the festival. (UC Berkeley photo by Tonya Becerra)

Freshman Liam Duncan, a molecular environmental biology major, was one of 10 students trained to be what Mancia called  “llama michiqs,” or caregivers, at Llamapalooza. Along with Mancia, the group met Caldwell and four llamas last Sunday at Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland hills to learn about the animals and how to help their peers interact with them.

“At first, I signed up because I thought it would be a cool opportunity to hang out with animals, and I want to be a vet,” said Duncan, “but it really has been a much more profound, beautiful experience.”

He said part of the training included learning to greet a llama by looking into its eyes and exhaling very close to its face, which causes the llama to do the same.

“I had a midterm last night at seven, and knowing I’d get to be with the llamas today tided me over,” he said. “I’ll definitely be sad to see them go; I’ve grown attached.”

Mancia guaranteed they’ll be back next semester.