Hundreds of Sheep Walking in Circles Mystery May Finally Be Solved

by Amy Myers
Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Recently, a herd of sheep has been making headlines for their dizzying display. Now, it seems that experts have nailed down why this flock has been walking in circles for 12 days straight.

Roughly three weeks ago, a sheepherder in Mongolia shared a video of their flock, mindlessly following each other in a perfect circle. According to initial reports, all sheep were in good health.

Naturally, viewers shared their own theories, one even pointing to strange behavior that animals in other parts of the world exhibited.

“The white rhino at the Nairobi national park has also been walking in circles but anticlockwise,” one person mentioned. “A police station in Maragua has witnessed thousands of bats flying above the station for two days in a row day and night.”

Still, there was no concrete answer for why these particular sheep engaged in this endless movement… until now.

Matt Bell, a professor at the Department of Agriculture at Hartpury University in Gloucester, England, explained that there’s actually a very natural reason for these sheep walking in circles for so long.

“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,” Bell told Newsweek. “Then the other sheep join, as they are flock animals, and bond or join their friends.”

Sheep Flock May Also Be Suffering From Symptoms of a Virus

Another theory regarding the sheep’s behavior is much more serious and detrimental to the flock’s health. Listeriosis, also called “circling disease,” is a bacterial disease spread through food, soil and animal feces. With 34 sheep in one pen, it’s possible that the entire flock contracted the disease.

But there’s one problem with this hypothesis – Listeriosis causes death within 48 hours. And the sheep have been walking in circles for nearly two weeks, if not more.

This makes Bell’s theory of restlessness and mimicry much more plausible.

It takes just one sheep to begin the movement, as these animals function on flock mentality. Once one starts a behavior, others quickly join in. Soon enough, the entire farm is walking in circles. This is because, for prey animals, safety is in large numbers. Predators will almost always go after the stragglers in the group, so it’s best to stay close and move in the same fashion, even if there’s no clear reason why.

In fact, a similar situation happened when hundreds of sheep that escaped a farm decided to follow a runner on a trail near Puy de Dôme, France. The unsuspecting exerciser had no idea where these domesticated creatures came from. But, in need of a leader, they found the human running by and decided to join in.

Likely, just with the Chinese farm, it took just one sheep to head the movement. Once it started chasing after the runner, the rest of the flock followed suit without question.