Shrek, New Zealand’s most famous sheep, whose giant fleece made him a celebrity, has died at age 16.
Shrek became famous after escaping his enclosure and evading the shearers for six years by hiding in caves on New Zealand’s South Island. When he was caught in 2004, the Merino sheep had grown a mammoth 60-pound fleece, which he then lost in a televised shearing.
It was the start of a high-profile career for Shrek. The evasive sheep became a national icon in a country that is known for its large sheep population and is said to have more sheep than people. Shrek met then Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, was the subject of children’s books and made charity appearances.
An episode of HBO comedy series Flight of the Conchords, staring two "Kiwis" in New York, featured a sheep character based on Shrek — a wooly celebrity sheep named “Gary” that is flown in for a New Zealand consulate event.
Shrek’s owner, John Perriam of Bendigo Station, said the sheep had to be put down Monday morning because of illnesses related to old age, including circulation problems.
"He was just an ordinary sheep, went AWOL and hid, and when he was found he became the darling of the nation," Perriam told local broadcaster TVNZ. "He had an unbelievable personality. He loved children and he was really good with the elderly in retirement homes."
Shrek's giant fleece, which was enough to make 20 large men's suits, raised money for children’s medical charities when it was auctioned off in 2004.
Josie Spillane from the charity Cure Kids said that Shrek had over the years raised more than $150,000 for research into life-threatening illnesses.
"At the end of the day, it is the death of an iconic Kiwi. He just happens to be a sheep," she told the Southland Times.
After his death, Shrek spent Monday "lying in state," the Otago Daily Times reports. He will be cremated, and his ashes are to be scattered on a nearby mountain. Shrek's funeral service will be held at the Church of the Good Shepherd on the shores of scenic Lake Tekapo.
Perriam, who is planning to place a bronze statue of the sheep in the local town, said he has received calls from media and people all over the world wanting to express their sympathy at Shrek’s death.
"The response to his death has been remarkable, much bigger than I expected. It just shows how many people's lives he touched, Perriam told local newspaper the Otago Daily Times.
"They say he did so much for everyone, for charity, that they want that contribution recognized in some way," he said. "At one stage he was earning more for a public appearance than the All Blacks [New Zealand’s national rugby team] get.”