Students preparing for final exams at University of California, Berkeley, got a welcome distraction Wednesday when a rancher from Sonora brought three of his llamas to campus to help people de-stress.
"I mean it's not every day you get to hang out with llamas in between classes," said freshman Trinity Morton, 18, of Arcata, who took a selfie with one of the Sonora llamas and texted it to The Union Democrat.
"I have one final today, some more in two weeks," Morton said. "It got my mind off school for a bit. It was nice to see the llamas."
Ami Stair, 22, an undergraduate senior from San Lorenzo who studies ecology, also could not resist the opportunity to get close to the llamas. She texted a photo of her and one of the llamas and their keeper, George Caldwell, 67, of Sonora.
"How cute they are," Stair said in a phone interview. "They're unique animals you don't see very often. They're very interesting creatures.
"This is our last week of classes and lectures, and then we have a week off to study for finals in two weeks," Stair said. "So this is a stressful time of year, especially as a senior when you're trying to maintain your GPA."
Llamas are shaggy-haired, long-necked mammals known to scientists as camelids, and they can grow to more than 5 feet tall and more than 250 pounds. They've been used as meat and pack animals by Andean cultures in South America for centuries.
Biologists say llamas are intelligent. People of all ages, including university students, are drawn to them.
Morton, who says she is undeclared for now but thinking about focusing on sociology, said the Sonora llamas seemed unperturbed with all the attention.
"There were definitely a lot of people trying to take selfies," Morton said in a phone interview. "I was surprised how calm the llamas were with all the people. Some animals wouldn't do so well with that much attention, they get overwhelmed with so many people. The llamas were really calm and didn't seem to mind."
Caldwell said Wednesday was his third time taking llamas to UC Berkeley. He does plenty of free appearances with the beasts, but in this case he was paid by elected members of the university's student body.
"I've been raising llamas in Sonora 32 years," Caldwell said. "The ranch is named Llamas of Circle Home. What I'm doing today, I'm getting paid to do it. We did it both semesters last year."
Caldwell said he left Sonora about 9:15 a.m. with three llamas in a 1998 Ford F-350 passenger van with the seats pulled out so the llamas had room. He took Wiru, a 13-year-old male, Macintosh, a 15-year-old male, and Macintosh's 10-year-old son, Mick Jagger.
"Wiru is my main PR guy," Caldwell said by phone as he drove past Oakdale toward Berkeley. "He's got shotgun. His head is between the two front seats. He's my spiritual leader for doing this type of stuff."
Wiru has experience being around people and other animals, and his untroubled persona helps keep the other llamas calm and reasonable in crowds, Caldwell said.
"We go into a lot of potentially exciting situations, and there's stuff happening," Caldwell said. "Just in May we had a pit bull incident in Redwood Regional Park in Oakland Hills. So the llamas need to be calm. There's going to be throngs of people."
Caldwell said he took Wiru and another llama for a free Halloween appearance at Sierra Waldorf School in Jamestown, and Wiru faced up to noisy pirates without a second thought.
"They asked us to be Noah with two llamas coming off the arc," Caldwell said. "We were right across from a pirate ship. You know how rowdy pirates are, shooting their guns and cannon. And the llamas were there, and Wiru is there and assessing the situation.
"He's the one who doesn't get shook by anything," Caldwell said. "He's like, 'I've seen this before, they're not going to hurt us.' The other llamas pick up on this."
Caldwell said Wiru would know what to expect at UC Berkeley and that would help the other llamas cope.
"A situation like today is everybody is loving on the llamas and these guys will know it's OK to accept all this love unconditionally," Caldwell said.
For more information about Caldwell's llamas, email him at geo@experienceLLamas.com or call 603-5280.