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New Zealand mourns Shrek the sheep

New Zealanders are mourning the loss of the country's most famous sheep - a shaggy national star called Shrek, who was renowned for avoiding being shorn for years.

Shrek captured the public's imagination in 2004 after he evaded the annual shearing round-ups for seven years by hiding in caves on his farm on South Island. When finally found, he was clad in an astonishing 60lb (27kg) of wool.

In a country where sheep outnumber people by nearly 10 to one, Shrek's story of stubbornness and guile appealed to many.

After his capture, Shrek - a Merino breed of sheep prized for having some of the softest wool - was shorn on live TV in a broadcast which was picked up around the world and watched by millions. His story inspired three books.

"He was quite an elderly statesman," said owner John Perriam. "He taught us a lot."

Until becoming sick three weeks ago, Shrek toured the country, commanding huge sums of money for appearances and getting the star treatment wherever he went. In one appearance, he was shorn on top of a large iceberg which was floating near the South Island coast.

Shrek was one of about 17,000 sheep on the the 27,000-acre (11,000-hectare) Bendigo farm in the small town of Tarras.

Mr Perriam believes Shrek was able to survive the winters and avoid detection by moving about a series of sheltered caves and by munching on small native shrubs.

After Shrek became a star, Mr Perriam gave him his own barn and showroom. Shrek even had a personal carer to look after him when he became sick, before being put to sleep at the age of 17.

Mr Perriam is planning a funeral service and will ask a friend to scatter Shrek's ashes on top of Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain.

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