Tuesday 23 May 2023

Counting sheep


We’re still ahead - and always will be, if you ask any Aussie, for whom the Kiwi/sheep thing is essential unsavoury-relationship joke material - but our ratio is dropping shockingly low. Not that long ago it was 22-1, but now we’re closing in on Iceland’s level. They are very proud of their 2-1 there, and never miss a chance to boast about it. (Australia, by contrast, considers their 3-1 ratio perfectly standard.)

To be honest, and going purely by the attitude of my guide Páll, Icelanders will boast about any feature of their country that’s the least bit distinctive. Good for them, I say. They certainly have plenty to be proud of - volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, doughty horses, ancient language, historical resilience, human rights, Björk and co, standard of living, even hotdogs - and I can’t imagine any visitor coming away unimpressed. But the sheep? They’re woolly and cute, and live free-range, with an annual round-up that’d be something to see; but there aren’t that many of them.

Our formerly vast sheep population is dwindling because dairy is more lucrative (though polluting ☹️) and, shockingly, the price of wool has dropped so low that just getting them shorn leaves farmers in the red. Crazy, when it’s such an eco-friendly product, with so many uses - which are expanding all the time, as producers are driven to be more and more creative. All power to them.

In the meantime, it’s a bit melancholy to think that classic NZ scenes like this - irresistible Insta-material for tourists - are becoming less common. 

Actually top of the world-wide list, by the way, though much lower-profile, are the Falkland Islands, with a whopping sheep population of 200-1. The mere fact that I scarcely noticed the sheep while I was there, instead being blown away by all the penguins and albatrosses (and literally by the wind), tells you all you need to know about the dominance there of the wildlife - including over the small population of humans, who cling gamely on, politics and rugged environment notwithstanding. Good thing counting their sexual partners helps them get to sleep at night.

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