Bendigo Station is an enormous tract of land covering some 30,000 acres in Central Otago on the South Island.
A station is the New Zealand and Australian word for what we would call a ranch in the United States. This sheep station had over 18,000 merino sheep and 10,000 additional sheep were run on neighboring properties.
On April 15, 2004, as two musterers, ranch hands, and their dogs rounded up a herd of sheep, they spotted a huge wooly mass standing motionless against the skyline on a rocky outcrop. No head or legs were visible, just a giant mass of fleece camouflaged with dirt and bits of plant matter. It was a sheep, but this wasn’t any ordinary sheep. It had obviously avoided being shorn for years (shearing occurs yearly). Its unshorn fleece was matted and had grown to prodigious length. Presumably this sheep now stood perfectly still hoping to again avoid detection.
This was Shrek.
Then as one of the ranch hands watched, the wooly beast attempted to walk along a narrow trail, struggling to see with the large amount of wool that covered its eyes making him what is termed ‘wool blind’. A short while later, the renegade sheep Shrek was captured. His wool was over a foot thick and it was estimated that he hadn’t been shorn in over six years.
John Perriam, Shrek’s owner, said of Shrek, “He looked like some biblical creature.”
Later when some teenagers saw the wooly beast in Perriam’s shed, one of the girls said, “Why not call it Shrek?” after the movie that was popular at the time. And the name stuck.
A few days later a photo of Shrek made its way onto the front page of the Otago Daily News and from there into international news. Shrek was an instant celebrity. The Bendigo Station was overrun with media from New Zealand and the world.
People loved a story of a sheep and particularly one who was a renegade and who had outsmarted humans at least for a number of years. Shrek had apparently survived by hiding in caves in the Otago highlands. But Shrek was lovable in his own way and had a certain demeanor, standing almost god-like at times. Shrek’s owners, while amazed at the animal’s instant fame, also wondered how they could use Shrek’s fame for good, and arranged for Shrek to be used to promote Cure Kids, an organization for child health research.
Shortly after Shrek was found, animal welfare activists began clamoring that Shrek be shorn; carrying all that wool around was causing suffering to the animal and set a bad example for New Zealand’s treatment of animals.
So it was arranged for Shrek to be shorn on national television. Shrek’s shearing was broadcast to 1.2 million people live all over the world on April 28, some two weeks after he was found. The weight of the fleece—27 kg (60 lbs)—six times the weight of the average merino fleece.
The outdoor clothing company Icebreaker agreed to make five tops out of some of the wool, two to be auctioned off and the remaining three to be given to dignitaries including Sir Edmund Hillary, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Helen Clark and the Kiwi director of the Shrek movies.
You’d think that after being shorn, Shrek’s popularity would have ended. But he remained popular with children and at charity events throughout the country raising large amounts of money for the children’s health. His fleece was again allowed to grow and he was shorn twice more with media attention, once on an iceberg off the coast of Dunedin, and the second time on top of the Skytower in Auckland.
Shrek was 9 years old when found. Most sheep are slaughtered by the time they are six years old. Shrek was 16 (90 years old in human terms) when he was euthanized on June 6, 2011.