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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sheep Led Through Madrid to Protest Lost Grazing Path

MADRID -- Shepherds from across the world joined their Spanish colleagues to lead flocks of sheep through the streets of downtown Madrid on Sunday in defense of ancient grazing routes threatened by urban sprawl and man-made frontiers.

While every year Spanish herdsmen protest their rights by herding hundreds of sheep along the capital's exclusive, tree-lined boulevards, this year they were joined by colorfully attired shepherds from 32 countries who had been taking part in a world gathering of nomad and transhumance shepherds.

Transhumance is the practice of seasonal livestock movement. In Spain it involves a million animals -- sheep, cattle and others.

The Spanish protest, now in its 15th year, seeks to highlight a tradition that has for centuries allowed herdsmen the right to use 125,000 kilometers of Spanish paths in seasonal livestock migrations from cool highland pastures in the summer to warmer low-lying spaces in the winter. Some paths have been used annually for more than 800 years.

Modern-day Madrid lies right in the way of two venerable north-south routes, one dating back to 1372.

A relatively modern city by European standards, Madrid became the capital of Spain's empire when King Philip II fixed his court here in 1561.

As a result, the Puerta del Sol -- a thronging plaza that is Madrid's equivalent of New York City's Times Square or London's Piccadilly Circus, now lies in the way of one of these routes.

While the routes are protected by Spanish law, modern life, including housing developments, highways and railways, has eroded time-honored paths.