The eerie video, which was posted on Twitter last week by the Chinese state-run outlet People’s Daily, shows dozens of the animals marching around and around on a farm in China’s remote Inner Mongolia region.
The tweet accompanying the creepy footage assured viewers that the sheep are healthy — and the expert suggests there also could be a very natural reason behind the animals’ striking behavior, which has unnerved and mystified people around the world.
“It looks like the sheep are in the pen for long periods, and this might lead to stereotypic behavior, with the repeated circling due to frustration about being in the pen and limited,” said Matt Bell, a professor at the Department of Agriculture at Hartpury University in Gloucester, England, to Newsweek. “Then the other sheep join, as they are flock animals, and bond or join their friends.”
The social behavior of sheep is dominated by flock mentality, which controls the animals’ movements and protects individuals from predators by prompting them to flee from danger as a group, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.
The sheep had been moving in a nearly perfect circle since Nov. 4. It’s unclear whether they stopped to eat or drink or whether they were still moving in unison as of Monday.
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The owner of the sheep farm, identified as Ms. Miao, claimed that the spooky sheep roundelay began with just a few animals before the rest of the flock joined in, Metro reported.
Although there are 34 sheep pens at the farm, only the sheep in one of the pens — No. 13 — had been acting this way.
Some have speculated that the sheep’s behavior could also be caused by a bacterial disease called Listeriosis — also known as “circling disease.”
The illness can be transmitted through contaminated food, soil or animal feces. It causes a wide range of symptoms, including depression, loss of appetite, fever, partial paralysis and circling behavior.
Listeriosis usually causes death in infected animals within 48 hours, so it does not explain how the sheep in China continued walking in a circle for 12 days.