A shaggy ball of dirty-white wool was seen wandering the scrublands of Australia on Wednesday. The sheep's fleece was so overgrown, it was barely able to see or walk.
A hiker immediately alerted authorities from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), who subsequently tweeted: “Help! @rspcaact needs help from a sheerer immediately to hopefully save this sheep we just rescued!”
The call for help was not unwarranted: while humorous to witness, the situation was actually very dangerous for Chris the sheep, as he has been dubbed. If he took a tumble, he would have been unable to get back up, allowing skin parasites to become an ever-present worry, and the upcoming summer rays could roast him inside his own wool. That’s why merino sheep are usually shorn every 12 months.
In fact, he was already suffering skin burns from urine trapped inside his fleece, according to Tammy Ven Dange, chief executive of the Canberra RSPCA.
Clearly, Chris needed a trim. And not just any trim, but one so labor-intensive he would need to be sedated. Thankfully, someone volunteered to take on the task: champion shearer Ian Elkins. It took 45 minutes for him to sheer the sheep – most take two minutes and result in a 4.5-kilogram (10-pound) fleece.
In total, Elkins sheared 40 kilograms (88 pounds) worth of wool from Chris. That surpasses the previous record-holders by quite a large margin. In 2004, a sheep named Shrek was found carrying almost 27 kilograms (60 pounds) of fleece around, while last year a sheep dubbed Big Ben hauled a massive 28.9 kilograms (64 pounds).
While not an official record yet, “It’s definitely one of the biggest sheep we’ve ever seen,” Ven Dange told AFP.
“It’s amazing it’s survived all these years out in the wild,” added Elkins.
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Elkins believes the fleece had been growing for seven years. “There were parts of the sheep where we had to cut it in different layers because the problem for me shearing it was the weight of the fleece was pulling on the skin and we wanted to keep the skin cuts to a minimum,” Elkins told ABC News.
The RSPCA said they will spend a week trying to find its legal owner before finding Chris a new home. Ven Dange added: "He's a new man in many ways."
To check out Chris in all his woolly glory, watch the Washington Post video below.