By Nic Cooper - Southern Alpacs Stud, New Zealand
The first shipment of alpacas from Christchurch, New Zealand, to London via Singapore with Singapore Airways has been successfully completed, with ten alpacas now enjoying the late English summer before going into their second winter in a row. Whilst "firsts" always undergo some steep learning curves, the new routing via Singapore is clearly less time consuming, better logistically, and far less stressful on the alpacas than the previous routing through Auckland and Canada. New Zealand has the right to export to Europe, whilst Australia does not. The approval of a camelid import protocol (Overseas Market Access Requirement - OMAR) from New Zealand to Europe provides a safe, easy to access, transit-haven, for Australian alpacas on their way to Europe. This has opened up new opportunities for New Zealand alpaca breeders. Stud males can be worked whilst in NZ, and this helps pay their way whilst giving New Zealanders the chance to gain the new transiting genetics. And some New Zealand bred alpacas are also making the journey to Europe.
First Step - Gain New Zealand Citizenship
To go on to Europe, Australian alpacas have to come to New Zealand and establish residency here for six months. To obtain entry to New Zealand, requires first a month long quarantine in Australia, and this is probably the most intensive of all the procedures required through this process.
Whilst our shipments have been relatively clear, some past shipments to NZ have seen quarantine testing failures, and alpaca have arrived with broken bones, severe mineral deficiencies, rye grass staggers, severe parasitic burden, and registry-disqualifying genetic faults. There have been deaths from heat stress on the tarmac at Sydney Airport, and births in the air transport crates – and the protocol for shipping is supposed to prevent all this.
Screening, Isolation and Testing
Screening to the UK Registry usually occurs in New Zealand. We have found that this is the time consuming part, whilst screening contracts are signed and set up, and fibre is sent away to the USA for testing. Australians should pre-screen before bringing alpacas to New Zealand and allow plenty of micron leeway to cater for the effects of the lush NZ grass. No-one wants to see alpacas "stranded" in NZ when they cannot continue the journey.
UK screening is undertaken by New Zealand accredited judges (phenotypic) and vets. It is an expensive process. Everyone will want to offer suggestions for change or improvement to the current screening methodology. What is in place is practical. Perfect conformation and health is a must. Fibre must be good. However cria at foot are not screened and there is no allowance for age or colour. The one problem we have found is that it is difficult to ship weaners and "intermediates", however magnificent they are, because of the height/weight minimums that are applied irrespective of age.
Once they pass screening they are on to testing and isolation, supervised by AgriQuality. Two tests for those going to the UK - a Tb test and a Brucellosis test. As soon as the test is taken the alpaca must be isolated from those of a different status (i.e. those not tested). Test results are back within the week and, if clear, the alpacas are free to fly. If any of the alpacas are destined for parts of Continental Europe, the whole herd has to have a further test and the isolation is a full 30 days.
At Southern Alpacas Stud we are 15 minutes from Christchurch International Airport - with daily non-stop flights to Singapore, connecting directly to Heathrow through Changi International Airport. The check in time for alpacas is 3 hours. So after a final check by NZ Agriquality Services, it is into the float for the short ride to the airport where we are met by MAF clearance officials. The alpacas present their boarding passes, we present the biosecurity clearances (a lot of work goes into getting these signed), the shipper presents the travel paperwork, MAF seals the crate and we all breathe a sigh of relief.
Leaving Christchurch at 12.50pm (lunch time) the alpacas arrive in Britain at 5.50am the following morning after 30 hours in transit - and start to get over the jet lag. They are fed and watered in reception facilities, import checked, and collected for the home farm at 10.30am. The alpacas have to remain on their destination farm for 30 days before becoming citizens of the UK - or undergoing additional testing and language lessons to move to continental Europe. There were glitches - and bigger issues than the official quarantine seals not fitting. For example the screener's paperwork from NZ was sent to British Alpaca Society and never arrived, and the whole exercise had to be repeated.
I am sure our second shipment, already in isolation as I write this, will go smoothly. One has to be optimistic! By the time you read this they will be in England. We have a third shipment planned this year, and thinking about suitable alpacas - mainly from EP Cambridge in Australia and a few of our own - for future shipments as the European Spring 2007 dawns.
Whilst this shipment went relatively well there are always glitches; things to make you tear your hair and raise eyebrows to the sky.
For us, this time, our most memorable horrors would be:
1) Our first and second shipments being switched on us by importers several times in the days leading up to testing, with the last changes being made 20 minutes before the testers arrived. (Nic to Agriquality -- "yes of course we are testing and entering isolation today, I just don't know which animals yet!!")
2) The loss of the phenotypic screening forms between the screener in NZ and BAS in UK, and the need for a second/repeat form filling exercise - in short time frame with planes already booked.
3) The frustration of one alpaca that tantalisingly stayed just a few kg below screening weight, steadfastly refusing all supplements, preferring the local winter grass, and body scoring 4+.
4) Finding out a few days before that the crates had been kitted out "inside - out", without door locks. And finding out on the tarmac the MAF seals did not fit the seal holes.
5) MAF calling just as we are loading to fly to ask where the "third" test results are. (Answer - not applicable to UK shipments, we have it in writing from MAF!)
There always are glitches on these shipments. Double cover everything. If in doubt ask and get replies in writing. And allow slippage days right through the programme.
Finally why move alpaca around the world?
Alpaca have been farmed for 18 years or so in NZ and Australia, and there is quite close co-operation between their respective alpaca industries. Australia originally sourced most of their base stock from or through New Zealand, and New Zealand breeders have been sourcing quality genetic stock back from Australia since 1996. Trans-Tasman trade in alpaca flourishes. Indeed when you fly Melbourne to Christchurch these days there is a high likelihood of alpaca travelling downstairs. Both countries have steadfastly applied the best of their sheep wool technology to the development of the alpaca herd - with great success. A solid common registry linked to a breeding values programme has allowed gain to be recognised genetically and consolidated.
Both countries have - in my opinion - outgrown the "buy the best" syndrome. There are few better around to buy. Most serious Australasian breeders are now in the "breed the best" scenario. And that is what Australasian farmers (alpaca or merino) are very good at. Europe on the other hand is a fledgling industry. Despite some excellent alpaca already in the UK, improvement can still be made by buying. And there are some very exciting proven genetic fibre traits to be sourced in the Australian alpaca, and its cousin, the New Zealand alpaca. From Australasia the buying can be genotypic, not just phenotypic.
Nic Cooper is a Director of Southern Alpacas Stud, farming about 200 huacaya just outside Christchurch since 1989. A NZ judge, Nic has travelled extensively to alpaca shows around the world recently and is impressed with the rapid growth and development potential of the European alpaca industry.
AgriQuality isolation on Southern Alpacas Stud farm in New Zealand
Commish Lad getting "ticked off"
Heavenly alpacas (soon to be 35,000 feet)
Inside the crate
Reception in UK - Cup Cake leading the way
Alpaca surveying their new home at Wellground - Cup Cake at the front
Photos of authors – Cup Cake and Nic Cooper
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