Shaffer: Mystery sheep delights, puzzles Durham neighborhood

jshaffer@newsobserver.comSeptember 2, 2013 

  • Want to help?

    Anyone who spots Bubba is encouraged to call Laurie Griffin at 919-842-7415. She has arranged for a sheep-roper and a farm for Bubba.

— During the past week, Bubba the wandering Barbados-Mouflon sheep has scotched every attempt to tranquilize, lasso, net and otherwise snare his bearded, big-horned body – a cloven-hoofed folk hero living like he busted out of the zoo.

Nobody knows why he turned up on Odyssey Drive in Durham, not far from Streets of Southpoint mall, where mothers push their babies in strollers down the sidewalk and the sheep population runs thin. Nobody has a clue why an exotic ram showed up to peer in their windows and drink from their birdbaths.

It’s not the sort of neighborhood where you’d go looking for a 125-pound hoofed mammal.

There’s a roundabout with some attractive shrubbery in the middle. There’s a pond with a few turtles floating on a log.

But nothing to attract a rare quadruped.

At first, Bubba got mistaken for a goat. He’s got those curling devil horns and a copper-colored beard hanging down past his chest. His behavior seemed a bit goatish. Sheep aren’t known for their brazen behavior.

But he soon showed himself to be skittish and shy. You couldn’t snap more than a blurry, zoomed-in picture of him before he turned hoofs and ran. With news of his sightings lighting up listservs, various sheep experts weighed in. This was a Barbados-Mouflon – sheep bred for short hair and better meat.

One of the neighbors put out dog food for him, and the neighbors gave him a name: Bubba.

Then last week, the sheriff’s office tried to bring Bubba in.

They posted his bearded mug shot on Facebook. They brought tranquilizer guns and nets, which Bubba dodged. TV crews showed up on Odyssey Drive in search of sheep footage and the neighborhood turned a little zany.

“They are elusive animals!” the sheriff’s office explained, ensuring neighbors it had no plans to harm the wild sheep.

Bubba, meanwhile, retreated to the woods as the world kept up its plotting.

Sheep-watchers offered advice online:

“I have some female goats. Some might be going into heat very soon.”

“Sleeping pills in food.”

“What you really need is a dog to herd him.”

“This looks like the ram from the MTV ‘Jackass’ movie, and when he gets cornered he’s gonna be a handful and definitely can dish out some heavy hits!”

“I got goats and sheep in Durham and I’ll help ya wrangle if you would like it.”

“You need a good horseman that can throw rope.”

The neighbors around Odyssey Drive, worried for Bubba, not wanting him shot, hopeful that somebody out there misses him, have arranged for just such a ropesmith. Apparently, there’s a man around Chapel Hill talented enough to rope chickens, and he’s on alert. A farm nearby has requested Bubba for breeding, so the neighbors hope anyone who spots him will call the number you see printed in the box here.

The sheriff’s office has asked people to stop feeding him, and they’re hoping he’ll simply wander off. Unless he suddenly becomes dangerous, they’ll leave him alone.

(On Saturday, citizen reports had Bubba wandering a good distance to the east, but further attempts to snare him fell flat.)

This probably isn’t the most humane of outlooks, but I like the idea of a vagabond sheep, showing up at random, floating through Durham like a bleating gypsy, growing in legend like a short-haired yeti, challenging the bull for mascot status. All of us could benefit from having a itinerant animal in our lives, a creature who comes and goes with the seasons, appearing on the lawn at sunrise as we squint out the kitchen window, flashing us a knowing wink as he disappears.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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