And it was munching.
It was a sheep.
Startled by the size of the animal, and fearing he wouldn’t survive the upcoming Australian summer, the hiker alerted authorities. On Wednesday evening, animal advocates sent out a distress call.
“Help!” tweeted Tammy Ven Dange from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Australia. The RSPCA “needs help from a shearer immediately to hopefully save this sheep we just rescued!”
Chris, as the sheep’s discoverer named him, was in serious trouble. In fact, it was a minor miracle that the oversized merino had made it this far.
From the (absurd) look of him, Chris had wandered away from his flock five or six years ago. He had apparently been living on his own in the bush ever since. All the while, his wool had grown to unprecedented proportions.
“It’s definitely one of the biggest sheep we’ve ever seen,” Ven Dange, told AFP, estimating that Chris’s wool was five times its normal size.
While humorous, the hairy situation was potentially deadly. Chris could barely see or walk. He was at high risk of developing nasty skin parasites. And like a man in fat suit, if Chris fell over, he’d be unable to get back up, exposing him to foxes, dingoes or starvation.
In other words, Chris needed a haircut — ASAP.
“It’d be great to get someone here immediately so we can assess any serious medical conditions he might have as a result of this,” Ven Dange told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “There are so many things that could go wrong with this, we won’t know though until we can properly shear him.”
In a country where sheep shearing is a competitive sport, it didn’t take long for her to find Chris a barber.
Up stepped Ian Elkins, Australia’s greatest ever sheep-shearer. But even Elkins, a four-time national champion, was worried: the incredible weight of the wool was pulling on Chris’s skin, making it difficult to shear the sheep without cutting him.
“[This] could be one of my biggest challenges yet,” Elkins said.
Adding to the intensity of the operation was the fact that everyone wanted a look at arguably the world’s biggest sheep, yet, Chris was afraid of humans, let alone cameras.
“He has obviously not been around people in a very long time, and it’s probably going to take a couple of goes before we get it all off him,” Ven Dange told ABC. “He could go into shock during the shearing process tomorrow so we’re going to sedate him to try and take some of that pressure off him.”
On Thursday morning, Elkins sheared the sedated sheep with “no dramas,” he said.
The shearing set several world records. First, the 45-minute operation was likely the longest (by a professional, at least). Some shearers can strip a sheep in 30 seconds, with most jobs taking just two minutes.
And then there was the wool.
Weighing in at an incredible 89 pounds — roughly eight times the average for a merino — it easily eclipsed the tally set by two other famously furry sheep who went rogue to avoid the shears.
In 2004, Shrek the sheep became an international sensation after he was found wandering New Zealand with almost 60 pounds of wool on him. Shrek’s death in 2011 made headlines around the world. Last year, another Kiwi sheep named Big Ben bested Shrek by a few pounds.
But now both the New Zealand sheep have been blown out of the pasture.
“It’s actually smashed the record,” Elkins told the Guardian. “It’s very exciting to be part of it, and it’s quite pleasing that the welfare of this sheep was taken care of.”
Without his wool, Chris weighed just 97 pounds.
(Chris has rekindled competition between New Zealand and its westerly neighbor. “Kiwis wary of Aussie claim to Big Ben’s world sheep fleece record,” ran one headline Thursday.)
If Shrek’s wool was reportedly enough to make 20 men’s suits, then Chris’s coat could make 30. But Elkins said five or six years in the wild hadn’t done Chris’s coat any favors.
“I wouldn’t say it is high quality, but you wouldn’t expect it to be after so long in the bush,” he told the Guardian.
Instead, the massive merino haul will likely go on auction, and could end up in a museum, according to the Canberra Times.
Ven Dange posted photos to Twitter showing a seemingly pensive Chris, post-shearing.
“Chris the Sheep will be available in person for ‘interviews’ on Monday,” she said, “after the vets give him the okay.”
There is a bit of a sad underbelly to this otherwise happy sheep tale, however.
Gigantic, cloud-like sheep are literally unnatural. Wild sheep shed their coats every year, but humans have bred the animals to keep growing in order to increase wool production. Merino wool is common in high-end clothing.
Hilariously humongous sheep, in other words, are the result of people tinkering with animal evolution.
If Chris had gone belly up in the bush, his blood would have been on our sweaters.