The Cambridge Dictionary defines “to be like sheep” as follows: “If a group of people are (like) sheep, they all behave in the same way or all behave as they are told, and cannot or will not act independently.” If that definition reflects accurately on sheep (the animals) themselves, well, then sheep aren’t all that able to differentiate a good idea from a terrible one — they just follow the crowd. And, as it turns out, the idiom is accurate. Take, for example, this 22 second video, where the sheep got confused as to which one is leading. The result: they kept following each other in a circle around a car, making it very difficult for the driver to get anywhere.
In short: sheep follow each other, even when ludicrous. And in a few cases, the results can be tragic. Just ask Mejmet Gana.
Gana is a shepherd from Turkey. That’s hardly a job description that lends itself to international newspaper coverage, especially if — as was true in Gana’s case — one’s herd numbers only in the dozens. Unfortunately, the operative word in that sentence is “was.” For as reported by the New York Daily News in November of 2010, one of Gana’s sheep inexplicably decided to jump off a cliff to its death. And then, the other 51 in his flock followed suit. The sheep followed each other, seemingly mindlessly, to the ends of the Earth.
Apparently, this isn’t all that uncommon. Five years before Gana’s flock killed itself off, another Turkish herd met a similar fate — mostly. In this case, as reported by the BBC, the herd had 1,500 sheep, constituting the flocks of 26 families from the town of Gevas. And again, one of the sheep jumped off a fifty-foot (15m) cliff and the rest followed. This time, roughly 450 of the 1,500 sheep died. The reason the other 1,150 survived? As USA Today summed up: “those who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall more cushioned.”
While the outcome for those surviving sheep was certainly positive, the same can’t be said for the shepherds of Gevas. USA Today notes that the total value of the lost sheep was roughly $100,000 — a huge amount in an area with a per-capita GDP of about $2,700.
From the Archives: Lemming Population Control: Despite their reputation, lemmings don’t act like sheep.
Related: A Minecraft baby sheep.