Students have been enjoying virtual ‘hug-an-alpaca’ wellbeing sessions as part of their course at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).
The initiative was introduced to provide some fun time out from the challenges of remote learning.
The 30-minute sessions were initially offered to Wildlife and Conservation Management students at SRUC’s Riverside campus in Ayr and Barony campus in Dumfries, with the help of new lecturer Lucy Thornton, but are now being opened up to all students and staff.
Lucy, who took up her post at SRUC in December 2020, used to own an alpaca trekking centre in West Yorkshire where people could come and walk one of her herd of 18 alpacas around the fields. When she saw the animals were offering a wellbeing service to visitors, she extended this to include a care farm.
She said: “The alpacas each have their own unique character. Some are more amenable to human contact – especially when carrots are involved, and some are more aloof, which is probably their more instinctive behaviour.
“They certainly have the cute factor which makes them easier to forgive when you get caught in the crossfire of a spitting match.”
When Lucy moved to Scotland, she brought four of the alpacas with her – Sultan, the ‘bossy one’, Thanos, the ‘handsome one’, Emlyn, the ‘sensible one’ and Cheslav, the ‘greedy one’ – along with her therapy sheep Herbert and his three female friends.
Having already had experience of using the alpacas for therapy, she decided to offer a Q&A session on the quirky creatures to students.
“Students and staff have faced a challenging year with remote learning and teaching, so I offered to run a virtual alpaca wellbeing session, initially aimed at WCM students, to allow them some time out to ask questions and just be involved in something a bit different,” she said.
“The alpacas are used to having a camera thrust in their faces as I started to deliver Facebook Live sessions when lockdown commenced, and attendees commented that even though they weren’t physically present with the alpacas, just the sight of them helped them feel calm and relaxed.”
Student Harley Mathieson said: “It was amazing to hang out with the alpacas – they have such varied personalities.
“It was also great to hear all about their physiology and to find out about the wool being lanolin free and therefore hypoallergenic.”
The next event is being held in April as part of Stress Awareness Month.
For more information about studying at SRUC, visit: www.sruc.ac.uk/courses