Clyde Haldane was a silent giant in the alpaca business. It is not
likely that most NorthAmerican camelid breeders will recognise his name. However, breeders need only look as far as their own pastures to see his influence.
Clyde Haldane was instrumental in expanding the alpaca business to places
outside South America. Clyde and his brother Roger have been described as
being as pivotal to the alpaca business in Australia as the Wright brothers were to
aviation. His recent death provides a moment for us to look
back at the small group of risk taking entrepreneurs who started moving large
shipments of alpacas from South America to Australia, North America, New Zealand
and Europe in the l980s. Other key figures like Tom Hunt, Jurgen Schulz, and Phil
Mizrahie were also on the scene but Clyde Haldane was the first large importer to bring
a comprehensive knowledge of fibre and livestock to alpaca exportation. His animal selection methodology and penchant for detail influenced many of those around him.
I first met Clyde in l985. He appeared at my doorstep in Santa Cruz, California via a Greyhound Bus. At the time there were only two large imported source herds of alpacas in the United Sates. One was owned by Tom Hunt and Jurgen Schulz of Camelids of Delaware Inc., known in the business as CODI. The other belonged to Pet Center, owned by Phil Mizrahie, David Mohilef and Alex Perrinelle. Clyde came to our farm because I sold CODI’s animals during the l980s. He was the first Australian alpaca client any of us had met. He was from rural, coastal Australia where he and his family were well known for pioneering the tuna and prawn fisheries in the oceans off South Australia. When I think back to our first meeting I remember thinking Clyde appeared too naïve to handle the Byzantine and sometimes Machiavellian world of international animal export – a world where the art of politics, large sums of money, tweaking scientific protocols, setting up quarantines, and knowing the right people all came into play. As it would turn out I was naïve in my assessment of Clyde. He met the alpaca export challenge, and then some. This tall, lanky, unassuming countryman possessed intelligence, perseverance, modesty, pragmatism and a ready sense of humour. While he had a keen knowledge of animals in general, he was well informed on fleece-bearing animals in particular. I did not realize at the time that Clyde was already a veteran of commercial livestock farming, international animal importation and award wining wool and mohair fleece production. Since the 1970s Clyde had classed the brothers “Gleneagles” wool, which became one of South Australia’s premium clips, twice topping the Adelaide wool sales. By the early l980s the brothers were producing the largest mohair clip from a single grower in Australia. In a search for better genetics Clyde had visited America and South Africa. The Haldanes were involved in the first live importation of Angora goats from Texas and Angora and Boer Goat embryos from South Africa to Australia. Around this time Clyde became aware of another fleece bearing animal – alpacas - and began looking into how to bring about a large-scale importation to Australia. Since no protocols existed between Australia and any South American countries, the search started in America. Our crossing paths would prove to benefit both of us in different ways.
Much like me, Clyde turned out to have a strong adventurous streak and fascination with wildlife. These mutual interests would rekindle our relationship When in the decades that followed. I was assigned to write a natural history guide on Australia by Sierra Club books
in the late l980s it was Clyde and his brothers who offered much of the logistical help to get me to some of themost remote, awe inspiring parts of their country. It was Clyde who made a gruelling camel trek the length of the arid Flinders Ranges
with me in South Central Australia. Clyde was also my companion travelling
across the seemingly endless Nullarbor Plain, exploring the labyrinth of caves
where the remains of prehistoric animals had been found. But back in l985
Clyde was just this guy from Australia who was intensely focused on
learning about alpaca husbandry needs and fibre growing capabilities. Clyde hung around our farm for a week and went to the International Llama Association Conference with me, which was held in Yakima, Washington that year. (This was before there was an alpaca association; the alpacas were a small sidebar to the bigger llama conference.) Clyde and I travelled in a mini bus stripped of its back seats to make room for three alpacas that we displayed at the conference and used in a presentation I had been asked to give. We stopped along the way to photograph wildlife and let the animals out to exercise and relieve themselves. Clyde was the first person I heard ask questions that today seem quite obvious. I remember him asking, “What is the average fleece weight for an alpaca? What is the micron range? What diseases do alpacas resist and what are they apt to contract? How do alpacas handle stress? Can alpacas adapt to new environments unlike their high cold night pastures in the Andes?” At the time some of the literature about alpacas said they could only live in high elevations. Clyde was interested in an animal that would produce a viable fleece end product. On our drive back to California I asked him what he thought of the well- attended llama conference. “Amusing,” said Clyde. I took this to mean he had something else in mind. Shortly after returning to California I sent Clyde to the Pet Center in Los Angeles - the
other large alpaca importing entity operating in the U.S. at that time. Clyde and Phil
Mizrahie, the Pet Center’s most active partner in camelids, developed an instantaneous
friendship and business relationship. Both Phil and
Clyde described a sequence of events that went something like this: Upon arriving in L.A. Clyde promptly bought ten alpacas for a large sum of money. A couple weeks later when Phil and Clyde were able take a better measure of one another Phil rethought how the Haldanes’ investment could be better applied. Phil gave the Haldanes’ their money back and he took back his alpacas. Instead of a seller/retail buyer relationship, the Haldanes’ and the Pet Center formed an export partnership that would have far reaching effects on would-be alpaca owners around the globe for decades to come. The animals (and now their lineages) exported by this partnership are standing in pastures in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and to a lesser extent Europe. Phil Mizrahie revered the Haldanes brothers: “The Haldanes were great friends and superb partners. They are honest, smart and know how to get things done. Roger is better known, but Clyde was the one who spent months on the altiplano getting to know the herds and selecting animals based on his own criteria. He wasn’t interested in mass purchases as much as he was in selecting an animal based on its merits. He was a unique person who will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him.”
The Haldanes, working with the Pet Center, were everywhere in the rapidly expanding alpaca world of the late l980s and early l990s. Only the CODI group matched them in developing protocols between nations, and in sheer numbers of alpacas exported from South America during those years. At times these two groups joined forces to complete some importations, most notably the first large exportation from Peru to the United States in l993. Clyde Haldane was one of the main purchasers of alpacas for the first two shipments into the United States. Spheres of influence developed. The Haldanes and Pet Center became leaders in developing the New Zealand and Australian markets while CODI was more focused on developing the North American market.
The Haldanes helped open New Zealand in the late l980s with a shipment
of 350 animals, which were part of a 1,100 animal import. The importation was
unique because it was done by a large seagoing freighter and took nearly eighty
days to complete. Following that, the Haldanes convinced the Australian
government to allow alpacas to enter Australia as a form of livestock. They
were initially allowed only into the state of South Australia. Shortly after this was
accomplished, Australian Geoff Halpin imported a small group of alpacas from
Alaska. This was followed by a series of large shipments, each numbering in the
hundreds in each group. Occasionally the Haldanes teamed up with other importers
including Alan Hamilton, who was a major supplier to both the Australian and
English markets. The Haldane/Pet Center group was the first to use the
Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean for a quarantine facility prior to entering
Australia. Later, importers including Pat Viceconte would add to what the Haldane/Pet
Center and Hamilton efforts imported. Today the national herd in Australia is 60,000
animals, many of which can be traced to the Haldane/Pet Center’s initial importations.
While the movement of animals was creating a stir and much newsprint, Clyde Haldane stayed out of the limelight while doing a great deal of animal selection in South America. He spent about four months of each year from l988 to l992 in South America. He would go to great lengths to find animals and often stayed in remote villages working with the Quechua and Aymara herders and sharing their primitive homes. On these mammoth sojourns he visited most of the major breeders operating in northern Chile and Peru. He certainly had his share of memorable experiences. Once, he heard that a group of herders who lived in a remote area inaccessible to motorised vehicles might have some good animals. He managed to contact the isolated villagers through a relay phone and told them to watch for smoke coming from the far end of a huge dry salt lake that spanned nearly twenty miles. This would be their signal that Clyde was there with a truck ready to make purchases. Clyde arranged for a truck, arrived at the lake and lit his fire. By day’s end he saw the smoke signals from the villagers. Two days later a herd of 200 alpacas appeared on the horizon seeming to float across the shimmering mirage of the inch-deep lake. Clyde recounted that two rheas (the large flightless ostrich-like bird of the Andes) scurried ahead of the herd as it approached. Clyde held animals to exacting standards on his buying missions. He would sometimes look through an entire herd and not buy an animal while other days he would buy a dozen or more. I have also travelled to many of the remote areas visited by Clyde such as Macusani and Rural Alianza in the years since his last visits. Many of the locals still fondly remember him. They affectionately describe a tall man from Australia who stayed in their villages for weeks at a time and always brought his own cereal. By the mid l990s the alpaca business was changing. The quarantines and protocols were standardised and had become workable situations. Screening and registration requirements were in place to ensure animal quality, and a new group of exporters were on the scene moving animals to the far corners of the world. By l998 the North American alpaca registries (ARI and CLA) had been closed to imported animals. Clyde and Roger Haldane are visionary men and pioneers. Clyde thrived on the puzzle presented in introducing unique animal species to new settings. In 2002 the brothers were still successfully raising alpacas, but their curiosity about other poorly understood animals was getting the better of them. In another first of its kind importation, they imported a rare breed of milking buffalo from Bulgaria and Italy to Australia. Today Roger Haldane oversees a large dairy operation with these immense but gentle bovines producing awarded winning yoghurt and cheeses. Clyde became fascinated with Icelandic ponies, the “Viking horse,” and imported a sizeable herd, creating a rare genetic repository for the breed in the Southern Hemisphere. He also began working with relatively rare French breeds of dairy cattle that he believed would produce healthier milk products. Even as cancer limited his activities, Clyde held out hope. He imported an Icelandic stallion just months before he died.
I last saw Clyde a year ago on his farm in Australia. He introduced me to his herd of ponies and spoke of his plans to train and sell them - he saw these beauties as an ideal horse for children. We talked about our past adventures and compared notes on remote parts of the altiplano we had both visited, but never with one another. Clyde felt good about his contributions to the alpaca business in Australia and abroad and told me to tell his old partner Phil Mizrahie, that he was happy. Clyde Haldane’s journey on this earth helped define the alpaca business on three continents. He leaves behind a valuable and ongoing legacy. Thank you Clyde.