The National PermaLamb Programme
On 7 June 2019, in an unprecedented show of national cooperation, all of the country’s political parties unanimously voted in favour of creating the NZ Ministry of Science and Heritage. For the first time in over one hundred and fifty years, there were fewer sheep than people on our islands, and the new Ministry’s mandate was to ensure the protection of NZ’s past and future. Within a few weeks, a meeting was convened in Oamaru, bringing together the nation’s best scientists, historians, engineers, artists, economists, and religious leaders to re-imagine our national icon—and so a new species was born.
Using well-established transgenics research and recombinant DNA techniques, select genes from prize-winning NZ huntaway dogs were introduced into the genetic sequence of the finest NZ merino sheep, and development halted at the juvenile stage. The resulting cross-bred animal embodied the behavioural traits of a dog and took on the physical appearance of a lamb for its entire life, making it the perfect companion species. Each PermaLamb would also be implanted with a full suite of networked identification, location and sensor technologies, enabling it to generate and collect petabytes of data over its lifetime.
The National PermaLamb Programme was launched on 12 August 2021 with government incubators and dispensaries set up in each region of the North and South Islands. To ensure the growth of the nation’s new flock, every citizen and permanent resident of New Zealand over the age of 18 was required to adopt a PermaLamb and, in return, offered tax credits.
Ministry agents began meeting all international visitors at our ports in order to recruit PermaLamb foster programme participants, and offer credit toward any future immigration applications. Almost immediately, people started camping outside Ministry offices so that they could be amongst the first PermaLamb caregivers, and animals quickly became backordered from our national laboratories.
Nonetheless, within days the National PermaLamb Flock started to provide us with invaluable environmental data, and TVNZ began broadcasting each region’s average temperature, humidity, wind speed, soil quality, air quality, and sound quality as part of the national evening news, with real-time data tracking available via the Internet.
The PermaLamb Social Network offered caregivers the opportunity to share details of their animals’ activities with friends and family, as well as to subscribe to the feeds of other PermaLambs across the country. By the end of the first year, PermaLamb2393 and PermaLamb38645 each had over ten million followers from around the world. Within three years, both networks had over 4 billion combined global subscribers.
The Ministry gave special attention to what it would mean to share our everyday lives with PermaLambs and still maintain our national sense of practicality and self-sufficiency. The merino’s fine wool was re-established as a preferred textile fibre, and within two years every New Zealand home developed the capacity to cloth its members.
PermaLambs eliminated the need for shearing by naturally shedding their wool, and schoolchildren often competed to see who could collect the most. Knitting machines were activated if lambs registered as "happy" and local PermaLamb parks brought communities together to play with their pets and sustainably produce their own clothing.
The National PermaLamb Programme’s ability to clothe the nation was accompanied by its capacity to feed us as well. Recognising the need to identify a new source of protein for NZ’s meat-eaters, without ever sacrificing the value our country places on animal welfare, each PermaLamb came with an optional slaughter kit. Designed to be as gentle and compassionate as possible, special grasses could be fed to a PermaLamb so that it would fall asleep and never wake again.
Maintaining such a close connection to a food source was new to many of us, and previously casual barbeques and Sunday roast dinners became treasured rituals amongst family and friends.
The full set of NZ’s Ministry of Science and Heritage National PermaLamb Programme posters is available from the Nation's Archives for personal, non-commercial download and printing. Download hi-res, A3-size images (15mb .zip).