These city mascots around the world are celebrated for their unusual stories
Ginger town cat Hamish McHamish in Scotland has a statue and paparazzi following him everywhere
A Japanese train station has a cat for a station master
Berlin Zoo's Knut the polar bear inspired "Knutmania" around the world
They have tours designed around them, statues erected in their honor and fans so rabid many a sports team would envy them.
The world’s most adorable city mascots have some heady responsibilities and impressive lines on their CVs, from running a train station to gracing a “Vanity Fair” cover with Hollywood elite.
But cuteness alone didn’t get them their celebrity.
Their stories did.
1. Shrek the Unshearable Sheep (Tarras, New Zealand)
Shrek, a merino sheep from the small New Zealand farming settlement of Tarras, gained a following in 2004 after word got out he’d avoided grooming for six years by hiding in a cave.
Named Shrek for the ogre he resembled in his matted state, he quickly charmed the nation.
After his capture, a national TV station broadcast the 20-minute shearing of the iconic kiwi live.
During the shave, Shrek shed 27 kilograms (about 60 pounds) of fleece, enough to make 20 large wool men’s suits.
The fleece was auctioned in 2004 for children’s medical charities.
Shrek became so famous he got to meet New Zealand’s prime minister.
In 2007, he spent his 10th birthday on an iceberg off the coast of New Zealand, where the celebrisheep underwent his second big trim.
At age 16 he began suffering pain from age-related illnesses and was put down.
His legacy in Tarras and New Zealand lives on in legend.
Special power: Living in darkness.
Potential motto: “It’s just in that awkward, in-between phase.”
2. Fungie the Dolphin (Dingle, Ireland)
He may not be a household name globally, but Fungie’s a big deal in the tiny town of Dingle on the west coast of Ireland.
The 13-foot resident bottlenose made Dingle harbor his home in 1983 and is known for playing around boats and swimmers.
Recently, a second dolphin was spotted in the harbor.
Local lore has it that it’s Fungie’s former lover, returning to the dolphin of her dreams after many years.
Dingle runs daily Fungie-spotting boat tours ($23 adults; $12 children) and even offers Fungie wedding packages.
According to his official website, celebrities such as fellow Irishman Pierce Brosnan have come to see Fungie.
“Although there is no meaning in the Irish language for the word ‘Fungie,’ it does suggest he is a Fun-Guy,” the site says.
Special power: Sticking around.
Potential motto: “Fungie by name, fun guy by nature!”
3. Patrick the Wombat (Ballarat, Victoria, Australia)
At 28 years old and almost 84 pounds, Patrick the wombat of Australia’s Ballarat Wildlife Park is the oldest and largest Common Wombat known in captivity, having outlived the average wombat in the wild by 13 years (so far).
The longtime resident of Victoria acts as the “wombassador” to the wildlife park, where he gets wheel-barrowed about the park by staff.
Rapt visitors have included Nicolas Cage, Kirstie Alley and Kim Cattrall.
A local celebrity, he became a Reddit phenomenon when his photo blew up on the site in 2013.
On October 22, the town will honor him for Australia’s 10th annual Wombat Day – also known as “Hug a Wombie Day” – an unofficial holiday designed to celebrate all of Australia’s wombats.
Special power: Staying alive.
Potential motto: “I’m old, fat and hairy and wouldn’t change a thing.”
4. Tama the Station Master (Kinokawa, Wakayama, Japan)
Tama, a 15-year-old female calico from the streets of Kinokawa, pawed her way to fame and fortune at the small rail station of Kishi in Japan.
The unclaimed puss became a familiar face near the tracks, and after a while, was adopted by the station manager.
Three years later, Tama took her owner’s job.
Tama’s mascot duties as official station master and deputy president include greeting passengers, wearing a station master hat and eating.
Tens of thousands of tourists trek to the tiny train town each year to see the cat and the Tama-themed station, featuring a Tama train, Tama souvenir shop, Tama cafe and even a building resembling a cat’s face.
Special power: Ambition.
Potential motto: “It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Let a cat handle it.”
5. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (San Francisco)
A pandemonium of approximately 200 conure parrots reside in a park in the San Francisco neighborhood of Telegraph Hill, far from their native home in South America.
Having become a city staple and stars of the 2003 documentary “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” they have their own fan club and entries devoted to them in San Francisco travel guides.
Although their origin is uncertain, it’s thought the first of these parrots congregated on the hill after escaping from captivity – millions were brought into the United States before restrictions were placed on wild parrot imports in 1993.
Special power: Finding cheap accommodation in San Francisco.
Potential motto: “Freedom fliers unite!”
6. Cute Knut (Berlin)
Abandonment, love, celebrity, incest … the story of “Cute Knut,” the polar bear born in the Berlin Zoo in 2006 packs more drama than any Lifetime special.
Rejected at birth by his mother, a former circus performer named Tosca from East Germany, Knut the eisbar (“polar bear” in German) was left alone after his twin brother died at just four days old.
When his story and picture hit national media, it melted German hearts and sparked an international sensation.
His first public appearance brought hordes of Berliners and hundreds of journalists to the Berlin Zoo.
He subsequently graced postcards and stamps, inspired a Nutella knockoff called “Knutella” and had stuffed animals created in his likeness.
He was even photographed by Annie Leibovitz and superimposed onto a “Vanity Fair” cover featuring Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Berlin Zoo capitalized on the city’s Knutmania by officially registering Knut as a trademark.
But when the adorable little bear grew up, his adoring public turned.
Knut became plagued by rumors of incest when his polar bear girlfriend turned out to be a distant relative, and was bullied by fellow bears including his own mother.
Like many childhood celebrities, he was unable to deal with the fame.
Gawker even likened his meltdown to that of Britney Spears.
On March 19, 2011, when he was but four years old, Knut collapsed into his pool and died.
An outpouring of grief ensued with flowers, memorials and a statement from the mayor.
A sculpture of the bear using Knut’s fur was exhibited in Berlin’s Museum of Natural History.
Special power: Tear jerking.
Potential motto: “Ich bin ein bearliner.”
7. Hamish McHamish the Cool Cat (St. Andrews, Scotland)
The 17,000-person Scottish town of St. Andrews is hovering dangerously close to idolatry in regards to its collective pet, ginger furball, Hamish McHamish.
Starting when he was a young, rebellious kitten 14 years ago, McHamish would leave home to voyage regularly into local eateries, bookstores and homes.
The town fell for him hard.
In April, St. Andrews erected a resident-funded $8,000 cast bronze statue of the cat to honor their beloved friend.
A biography – “Hamish McHamish, Cool Cat About Town” – was published this year.
The local celeb regularly updates his busy goings on about town on Twitter.
“Spending my evening watching Flashdance on DVD. #whatafeeling” and “I’m in Drouthies if anyone fancies [buying me] a drink. #gasping,” are some recent tweets.
Special power: Posturing with style.
Motto: “Once I had an owner. Now I have a staff.”
8. Mike the Headless Chicken (Fruita, Colorado)
A famed headless fowl named Mike has become an icon in the farm town of Fruita, Colorado.
Back in 1945, the Wyandotte rooster continued to live for 18 months after a farmer’s wife chopped off its head.
She was hoping for a chicken dinner, but instead got the shock of her life as the headless chicken strutted off.
According to an article in “LIFE” magazine from 1945, the ax managed to “clip off most of the skull but leave intact one ear, the jugular vein and the base of the brain, which controls motor function.”
Mike became a popular sideshow attraction, and owners even supposedly insured the chicken for $10,000.
The headless chicken finally passed away in 1946 in an Arizona motel from health complications.
Now Fruita remembers its town chicken every May with a Mike the Headless Chicken Festival and a Mike the Headless Chicken 5K.
Special power: Surviving a beheading.
Potential motto: “Who needs a brain?”
Rachel Barth is a freelance writer and filmmaker based in San Francisco.