It’s hard to tell what the llamas are think- ing as they are mobbed by students on Memorial Glade at UC Berkeley for the vent that is now called Llamapalooza.
These Peruvian pack animals have been
coming to this grassy field on campus
ringed by three of the university’s imposing
libraries for four years now.
Each llama draws its own crowd like they
are members of The Beatles and it is 1964.
The llamas stare on with their brown, soulful eyes, revealing nothing. The students
are all smiles as they pose for selfies, holding their smartphones at arm’s length and
craning their heads for their best angles.
But the llamas go where they want to.
They stand patiently on a patch of grass for
only so long before they pull away from their
fans in a search for less-crowded spaces.
“We are the top engineers, entrepreneurs
and political leaders of the future, and
we’re just chasing after these llamas,” a
young man somewhere behind me says.
I look for him to take down his name and
major, but he’s downfield jogging after a
Llamapalooza began when George Caldwell, who prefers to be called Geo Llama,
brought just three llamas from his ranch in
Sonora, Calif., to UC Berkeley in 2014. Now
he’s bringing six llamas and the crowds of
people just keep growing. An estimated
1,000 students showed up for the last Llamapalooza in December and it looks like
there’s at least that many on the glade now.
“I’m going to call it paranormal because
people just don’t have this kind of reaction
to other animals,” Geo said, sounding so
With his long, white beard and Andean
poncho he looks very Berkeley as well. Geo
hopes that the university could someday
maintain its own herd of llamas.
“I’ve seen all the stories on the stress that
the students are under, and that they don’t
have enough psychiatrists,” Geo explained.
“For the cost of one psychiatrist you could
have 24 llamas here full-time.”
Geo goes on to note that the stress-reduc-
ing effects of llamas are “pretty much un-
studied.” UC Berkeley has recently launched
ambitious initiatives for brain research,
genomics and data science with more on
the way. If there were a llama initiative, it
would be the cuddliest initiative ever.
After talking to Geo, I find myself in the
grip of llama hysteria like everyone else. I
follow one of the llamas, hoping to get close
enough to take that coveted selfie, but I can’t
cut through the crowd. I end up at the rear
of the animal instead. I reach out and put
my hand on the llama’s butt for a second
and attempt to snap a picture of this with my
iPhone. The llama raises her tail, and I can
sense that it’s time to back off.
A few seconds later, the llama breaks free
of the crowd, again searching for an empty
space of grass. By the end of Llamapalooza
these therapy llamas might need their own
therapy llamas. And with wellness all the
rage in meetings and conventions, maybe
planners can add their own therapy llamas
to their events? Just check out www.expe
riencellamas.com and tell ’em Shattering
Conventions sent ya.
Bob Calhoun is the author of Shattering
Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and
Conflict on the Expo Floor. You can follow
him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.
IN EACH INSTALLMENT
BOB CALHOUN CRASHES
A NEW TRADESHOW,
LOOKING FOR A WAY TO
FIT IN—EVEN WHERE
HE DOESN’T ALWAYS
SHATTERING CON VENT IONS
The world’s best-ranked public university leans on Llamas for stress reduction
By Bob Calhoun
LLAMAS to the