Stuck in self-isolation thanks to the lockdown one-third of humanity is currently under, Alice Gray and her family weren’t expecting any guests when they held a barbecue for her son’s birthday earlier this month. But to their surprise, a “great big fluffy ball of wool” decided to join them. However, this rotund sheep was no stranger – it was in fact one of many that fled from Gray’s farm in Dunalley, Tasmania, during a bushfire disaster in 2013. Seven years later, “Prickles” (as Gray’s son named the sheep), has returned, with a majestic self-isolation hairstyle to boot.
When blazes raged through 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) of land across the state of Tasmania, the Gray’s family farm was burnt to the ground. One huge task undertaken in the aftermath of this tragedy was the repair of 47 kilometers of fencing. As Gray told ABC Radio Hobart, they believe Prickles ended up on the wrong side of the new fence: "It was during that time that she got trapped at the back of the farm, and once the new fences went back in she couldn't get back to the rest of the sheep.”
Separated from the flock, this “fleecy fugitive” spent the next few years of her life roaming the 200-acre bush block she now called home. Without an annual haircut, Prickles developed quite the coat. However, as she is a bare-faced Merino the wool never grew onto her face, enabling her to avoid “wool-blindness”.
Before she made a guest appearance at the Gray’s family BBQ, Prickles had been spotted in night vision camera footage, originally meant to capture wild deer. So when the family saw a “great white fluffy thing” at the back of their farm, Gray recalled to CBC Radio that she thought, “Oh my God, I think that is that crazy sheep we saw in the video.”
What ensued was a wild sheep chase by Gray’s husband, before the five adults wrestled Prickles into the back of their truck. “She's quite a sight to behold and she's quite glorious,” Gray explained to CBC Radio. “But luckily, she was very healthy under all of that, and very nimble for such extreme proportions.”
Back on the farm, Prickles has settled in and seems to be enjoying time in the “retirement paddock.” Luckily for her, it won’t be long before she can blend back in with the flock, as her fleece is due to be sheared off on May 1. But the Gray family, inspired by Prickles’ ability to “socially distance” for seven years, decided to mark this moment by launching a fundraiser to raise money for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, helping those unable to self-isolate during the current crisis.
When making a donation the Gray family is asking people to guess the weight of Prickles’ fleece, teasing the potential of hitting the world record of 41.1 kilograms (90.6 pounds), which also came from an escaped Merino sheep.
If Prickles’ story has left you wondering whether other animals have gone on the run, this flamingo escaped from a zoo and lived it up in Texas undetected for 10 years, whilst these baboons made an ingenious escape from a research center, A-Team-style.