Pitt-Island Wild Sheep

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Pitt island Wild SheepThere are several accounts of how the Pitt Island Wild Sheep happened to be there:

"Like most of New Zealand's feral breeds of rare sheep, the origins and early history of those of Pitt Island are based on speculation as much as fact. It is likely, however, that they derived from Saxony Merinos that had been taken to South East Island – another island in the Chatham group – in 1841 by Baron von Alsdorf of the Hutt Valley, North Island, and their progeny were moved on to Pitt Island a few years later. In any case, the flock is known to have been in existence since the beginning of the twentieth century (Engst manuscripts, Canterbury Museum; Whitaker 1976).

In the mid-1970s it was stated that there were 2000-3000 feral sheep spread over 2500 hectares on the southern half of the island. In 1983 Dr Mike Rudge, who was a founder member of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society, reported that in “a most unusual step in a country in which conservation priorities generally hark back to a pristine age of flightless birds, ancient reptiles and rich rain forests” a scientific reserve of 200 hectares had been created for 305 of the sheep near Canister Cove and adjacent to the Southern Nature Reserve in 1981 (Rudge 1983b:211; 1983a:349). It was no surprise to learn, however, that within a few years the sheep had been “removed” as part of a change in management plan (Walls and Scheele 1995:12) ." ( http://www.rarebreeds.co.nz/pitta.html)

"In the nineteen-seventies a feral flock of several thousand sheep could be found on Pitt Island in the Chatham group.

These possibly derived from Saxony Merinos first taken to South-East Island – another island in the Chatham group – in 1841 and later transferred to Pitt Island. In any case, the flock is known with certainty to have been in existence for almost a century. A Reserve for 300 of these animals was created on Pitt Island in 1981. A number have also been taken to mainland New Zealand.

Pitt island Wild Sheep

Pitt Island sheep are almost all coloured and have the self-shedding fleeces characteristic of feral breeds. The rams are impressively horned – up to a metre long measured around the curve.

      In a study made of the sheep on the Reserve in 1981, Dr M. R. Rudge found that only 11.1% of rams and 8.8% of ewes were white; 97% of rams were horned but only 13% of the ewes had true horns, though 54% of the ewes had scurs."


"Pitt Island sheep are otherwise known as Spanish or Saxony merino sheep. These sheep are descendants of animals imported into New Zealand by Samuel Marsden on his ship the ‘Active’ sometime between 1814 and 1837. Marsden was the instigator, along with John McArthur, of the Australasian wool industry, and the year 1997 marked the bicentennial of that event, for in 1797 progeny in South Africa of a small flock presented to the Government of the Netherlands by the King of Spain in 1789 and sent to South Africa, were brought into Australia by him. The Spanish Merinos had been jealously guarded by Spain for centuries because of its fine wool, and survived through the upheavals of war and famine. They are related to the even more ancestral Mouflon from the mountainous regions of Corsica and Sardinia. As a feral sheep, having been wild on Pitt Island at the Chatham Islands since 1843, they hold a wealth of genetic treasure. The Spanish Merino is related to the Arapawa and Hokonui feral sheep, as they also derive from the voyage(s) of the brigantine ‘Active’. Marsden operated a farm near Wellington, and a Wellington-based trader put a flock of 50 on South-East Island a couple of miles off Pitt Island, where the Black Robins now thrive and sold them shortly after in 1842 or1843, when there were around 300, to the first European on Pitt, Frederick Hunt, who used them to supply whaling ships and sell the wool.

When the whaling finished, Pitt Island didn’t see a sail for seven years. The breed quickly returned to their wild state, eating out all the young Nikau seedlings, a species that the Chatham Island Wood Pigeon possibly depended on, with the result today that outside and inside the reserves, there remain only old Nikaus (different to the NZ types) that are quickly dying out, and there are no pigeons now on Pitt, while I think the pigeons on the main Chatham Island are only just recovering from their low point of 50 birds. Originally the entire flock was white. In the 1940s, a black sheep was a rarity. Half were black by 1960 and by 1997 90% of the flock was solid black at the skin, with brown fleeces.

Copyright: Don Armitage

Another, unconfirmed version is that they were deliberately released here and on other offshore islands as a food source for shipwrecked sailors. Estimates put this release as early as 1831, some 4 years after the historical demise of the Brigantine "Glory" on Pitt Island and some 12 years before the arrival of Frederick Hunt to Pitt Island.

Whatever the truth is, and whenever the sheep were first introduced to Pitt Island and from where, the sheep themsleves certainly adapted to the island. They are able to lamb more than once per year and many have twins. They self-shed their wool and they are not prone to footrot or other infectious diseases as plagues domestic stock. They are extremely tasty in comparison to their domestic relations and their meet is lean. They produce excellent skins and pelts and trophy heads. Some rams horns have been measured at nearly a metre.. These are also extremely intelligent animals and they make fantastic pets. In the wild, they are carefully managed and there is a reserve set aside for them. Currently there are several hundred within the reserve and lots more inhabit the coastal cliffs and grasslands. Hunters come from all over the world to hunt these remarkable animals and to bag a trophy head. Managed hunting helps to keep the population at a sustainable level.

Pitt Island Merchandise From Celine:



Caps and Hats

You really should come and have a look at these products. Celine sources her supplies from all over New Zealand and uses only quality suppliers. Her products are all chosen for durability, value and appearance. It is important to look good, but it's important that what you buy lasts.


Celine Gregory-Hunt: Resident artist, Pitt Island