New Zealand mourns death of Shrek the shaggy sheep

June 7, 2011 - 4:43 AM

New Zealanders were mourning the loss of the country's most famous sheep on Tuesday, a shaggy national icon named Shrek who was renowned for avoiding being shorn for years.

Shrek captured the public's imagination in 2004 after he evaded the annual shearing roundups for seven years by hiding in caves on his farm on the South Island. When finally found, he was clad in an astonishing 60 pounds (27 kilograms) of wool.

In a country where sheep outnumber people by nearly 10 to one, Shrek's story of stubbornness and guile appealed to many.

After his capture, Shrek — a Merino breed of sheep prized for having some of the softest wool — was shorn on live TV in a broadcast that was picked up around the world and watched by millions. His story inspired three books.

"He was quite an elderly statesman," said owner John Perriam. "He taught us a lot."

Until becoming sick three weeks ago, Shrek toured the country, commanding $16,000 for appearances and getting the star treatment wherever he went. In one appearance, Shrek was shorn atop a large iceberg that was floating near the South Island coast.

Shrek was one of about 17,000 sheep on the the 27,000-acre (11,000-hectare) Bendigo farm in the small town of Tarras. Perriam believes Shrek was able to survive the winters and avoid detection by moving about a series of sheltered caves and by munching on small native shrubs.

"It's bizarre that we missed him seven years in a row," Perriam said. "But from his point of view, it was the perfect environment."

After Shrek became a star, Perriam gave him his own barn and showroom. Shrek even had a personal caregiver look after him when he became sick, before the sheep was euthanized Monday at age 17.

Perriam said that as well as laying claim to being New Zealand's woolliest sheep, Shrek may also have been its oldest. Most sheep live for no more than six years before being slaughtered.

Since Shrek's death, tributes have been pouring in online, including on the Facebook page "R.I.P Shrek the Sheep." One wrote "Swift Wings Old Boy ... There's a yummy green paddock (pasture) waiting for you."

Perriam is planning a funeral service and will ask a friend to scatter Shrek's ashes atop Mt. Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain.