There’s no creature more emblematic of New Zealand than the humble, utilitarian, and ubiquitous sheep.
England has the bulldog. America has the eagle. Canada has the noble moose. New Zealand has… sheep. While the endemic kiwi bird is ostensibly the national symbol of the Land of the Long White Cloud, there’s perhaps no creature more emblematic of New Zealand than the humble, utilitarian, and ubiquitous Ovis aries.
So, how did a land filled with wondrous beasts like whales, dolphins, bats, and skinks wind up becoming synonymous with this plain old woolly quadruped, exactly? The story is more interesting than you’d think:
James and the not-so-giant sheep
NZ’s first brush with sheep came in 1773, when Captain James Cook — the first person to circumnavigate New Zealand – imported a single ewe and ram from South Africa and turned them loose on the South Island at Queen Charlotte Sound. While initially a failure (both sheep were dead within days), Cook’s experiment spurred perhaps the greatest economic boom in NZ’s history; by the 1850s, sheep farming was becoming one of the country’s busiest industries, with wool accounting for over a third of NZ’s total exports.