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Clyde the Camel

With his 'parents' Gary and Renae Drake

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Clyde is a pretty popular attraction in December. For most of his 11 years, he has been a regular fixture at living nativities and holiday festivals across the Treasure Valley. His owners, Gary and Renae Drake of Nampa, transport Clyde in a makeshift wagon to dozens of events each year (almost always for free). Gary, a metal fabricator and self-professed "jack of all trades," loves his one-on-one time with Clyde and sharing him with his kids and grandkids. But when the holidays come around, he and Renae are passionate about sharing their "family member" with the young and the young-at-heart.

Do you have an array of animals?

Gary: Right now, we don't have that many--two dogs, a steer and Clyde.

Renae: But our house has been filled with animals over the years--dogs, monkeys, a kikachu [honey bear], sugar glider [flying squirrel], snakes, iguanas and a bush baby [nocturnal primate]. We probably had as many as 40 animals.

Where does your love for animals come from?

Gary: My Uncle Paul was an exotic animal dealer. When he got older, he couldn't travel that well, so I would help him. I had always been around farm animals, so it was pretty natural for me.

How did you get Clyde?

Gary: On our last trip to see Uncle Paul in Sublimity, Ore., he gave us Clyde, who was 6-weeks-old.

How big was he then?

Gary: About 5 feet tall to the top of his head, 130 pounds.

Renae: I still had to stand on a railroad tie to feed him.

How big is Clyde now?

Gary: Eight feet tall at the shoulder. He can reach 12 or 14 feet to the head. He weighs a ton.

What is his diet?

Renae: He grazes in the pasture mostly.

Gary: The biggest worry is feeding him stuff that's too rich. His system is so efficient. He probably eats a third of what a horse would eat, and he's twice as big.

How old could he grow to be?

Gary: If he's healthy, all the way to his 40s.

Renae: His health is great. You really have to watch really wet ground because he doesn't have hooves. His feet are like a dog's.

I'm guessing he really likes people.

Gary: One evening, an older gentleman in a wheelchair came up to him. Clyde sniffed all around because he had never seen a wheelchair before, and then he planted a big lick on top of the guy's head. He was so gentle. That guy thought it was the neatest thing.

Renae: Once Clyde was [lying down] on the ground and it was pretty cold. A little boy in a snowsuit, maybe 2 or 3 years old, was tired so he curled up next to Clyde and fell asleep. His father was talking to Gary and nobody knew where the boy was. Gary was trying to get Clyde to stand up, but Clyde kept pulling back. He finally brought his neck around and pointed his nose to this little boy, letting us know that he was asleep next to him. It was pretty amazing.

So, he's particularly gentle with children.

Gary: I took Clyde across the street to a subdivision once so the kids could say hello. And there was a little girl, maybe 3 or 4 years old--she was riding hell-bent for election on her tricycle and she couldn't stop. Clyde just looked at her, spread his legs and let her ride her tricycle right under him. He didn't bat an eyelash.

Back in the 1960s, I remember a song called Ahab the Arab with his camel, Clyde. Is that where he got his name?

Gary: Yeah, it was a Ray Stevens song. Not many people know that.

How many events will you take Clyde to between Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Renae: Normally it's about 20 nights.

Gary: But we do birthday parties, harvest festivals and parades.

I always heard that camels were stubborn and nasty.

Gary: Not Clyde.

Renae: He's part of the family.

Do a lot of people consider you Clyde's parents?

Gary: We get that a lot.

Renae: We'll be shopping and some child will say, look there's Clyde's mommy and daddy.

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