A 1,300-strong flock of sheep in the city of Huesca in Spain had a few hours of liberation when their lone shepherd dozed off.
The incident was first reported at about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, when police received calls from some locals who saw and heard sheep bleating and making their way through the city.
A video shows the flock solidly strutting forward as a police car pulls up and flashes its lights. There was, however, no apparent act of defiance on the sheep’s part, allowing authorities — and the awakened shepherd — to easily round them up.
After herding the sheep out of the city — located in the northeastern region of Aragon — the shepherd headed north along a known herding route to the Pyrenean mountains for summertime. This was the original plan before the herder fell asleep waiting for the clock to strike 7 in the morning.
Spain has maintained its shepherding tradition amid sprawling cities and complex highways and infrastructure. Shepherds lead their flock annually through Madrid’s streets following cañana real, an ancient route made in symbolic defense of the herding practice.
Despite their dwindling numbers, shepherds in the country are formally trained in a Catalonian school to keep the longstanding tradition alive.
“The survival of sheep isn’t at risk — because there will always be a sheep farming industry — but the values and traditions of the shepherds certainly are,” said 56-year-old sheep farmer Josep Jordana in an New York Times report last year.
In Catalonia, shepherding is not only a tough solitary job but also a fading tradition. Its number of sheep farms was nearly halved from 1982 to 2009, dropping from 3,964 to 2,085. While there is no official data on shepherding, there are fewer than one dozen still doing it in the Catalonian mountains — most of them close to their retirement.
For those who want to preserve the craft's survival, there is a perfect candidate: people who believe in producing one's own food, living differently, and doing more than just a job.
In the U.S., similar animal escapes have occurred, including rare Amur leopard Zeya recently escaping her enclosure in a Salt Lake City zoo in Utah. The 4-year-old was found an hour later sleeping on a high beam — but not without zoo guests being corralled inside buildings for safety.
Like in the sheep’s case, there was no human or animal reported hurt or injured during the large feline’s brief freedom.
Photo: Erika Thorsen | Flickr