It is rare that Nelson interests the world’s news media. The “sheep suspended from pine trees” story was sufficiently bizarre to get their attention.

For those who missed the story: Some people walking in a pine plantation forest near Wakefield discovered the decayed bodies of about eight or nine sheep on the ground with another five or so entangled in the trees up to ten metres from the ground. The legs of the animals were tied up with wire.

This story was widely publicised, and the local council received calls from all over the world. Although within New Zealand this was generally treated as just a funny story, those overseas quickly scented a UFO mystery and an American caller wanted to know if there were scorch marks on the ground. There were not and how any UFO could land in a pine forest defies imagination.

It was obvious that the animals must have been dropped from the air. In fact a spokesperson for the council suggested an explanation on Radio New Zealand when the story first broke. This turned out to be largely correct. A helicopter pilot gave a full explanation to the council within 24 hours.

The animals had died of sleepy sickness (a metabolic disorder associated with lambing). Number eight fencing wire was then threaded through their hocks and they were slung from a helicopter to be flown to where they could be buried. (Hygiene regulations demand they be buried or burned.) The wire broke while the helicopter was flying over the forest. The pilot searched the area from the air and on foot but could not find the corpses. It is assumed that all the animals were originally entangled in the trees but decomposition caused some of them to fall.

The pilot apparently cleared up the mess once he know where it was. No prosecution is likely although the law may not have been strictly obeyed. This case was clearly an accident.

It may surprise many to discover that there are several offences (such as pollution cases like this) where the police display no interest. It is up to other bodies to prosecute if they deem it necessary. They are generally more interested in getting the mess cleared up.

In spite of this I can imagine stories, some time in the future in te UFO literature, suggesting a legal “cover-up”. Perhaps we shall see on television the story of how Nelson was nearly invaded by woolly aliens. We can be pretty certain that the overseas media never carried the prosaic explanation of this story.

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