Chris the Merino sheep who made international headlines after being found wandering and barely visible under a world-record 41kg fleece has died, his “heartbroken” carers have announced.
“Chris the sheep has passed away. We are heartbroken at the loss of this sweet, wise, friendly soul,” wrote carers at the Little Oak Sanctuary in posts on social media.
“Chris is known as the world record holder for having grown the heaviest fleece on record. He was so much more than this, so very much more, and we will remember him for all that he was – someone, not something – here with us, not for us. RIP dear Chris.”
Responding on Facebook, one commenter said: “Farewell sweet Chris. I will miss your baritone baaah.”
The RSPCA drafted in a champion shearer to unburden Chris of his enormous fleece after a member of the public found him in 2015 wandering an area near Canberra. When he was found, it was thought Chris had been wandering for about six years.
The removal of the fleece was considered essential to save his life, but also earned him a world record.
Champion shearer Ian Elkins took 41.1 kilos from Chris, easily beating a previous record of a 29kg fleece taken from a New Zealand sheep known as Big Ben.
At the time, the RSPCA ACT boss Tammy Ven Dange said Chris went from being a “very shy sheep” to “one that wants cuddles.”
Chris was thought to be about 10 years old and likely died of old age, although his experience in the wild may have shortened his life.
The co-founder of Little Oak Sanctuary, Kate Luke, told the Canberra Times: “We found Chris on Tuesday morning when he didn’t show up to get breakfast.
“He’s been really happy and healthy recently. His death came out of the blue. His system just gave way.”
Chris’s fleece was donated to the National Museum of Australia by RSPCA ACT, where it sits in a large glass case in the Old New Land gallery.
Dr Martha Sear, a senior curator, told the Canberra Times that the museum’s two most sought-after objects were the heart of racehorse Phar Lap and Chris’s fleece.
She said: “There’s that place that animals hold in our national affection that is important, and I expect we’ll see visitors come through over the new few weeks to pay their respects to Chris.”