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Bizarre video shows hundreds of sheep walking continuously in a circle for over 12 days

The clip is from the city of Baotou in China. Even the owner has no idea about their behavior.

Bizarre video shows hundreds of sheep walking continuously in a circle for over 12 days
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

Animals often exhibit strange behaviors, but a flock of sheep in China took things to a new level. In November 2022, the Chinese state-run media outlet People's Daily (@PDChina) shared footage on X (formerly Twitter) showing sheep in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, moving in a bizarre and continuous circle. This unusual activity quickly went viral on social media.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Marian Havenga
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Marian Havenga


Closed-circuit camera footage showed a large circle filled with black and white sheep moving in a continuous loop. According to the post, the sheep had been trotting this way for over 10 days. "The great sheep mystery! Hundreds of sheep walk in a circle for over 10 days in China's Inner Mongolia. The sheep are healthy and the reason for the weird behavior is still a mystery," the caption read.


Viewers were stunned by the footage. What was happening to the sheep? The scene, reminiscent of George Orwell’s "Animal Farm," captivated everyone. "As soon as I looked at it, I thought, 'I've never seen sheep act like that,'" said Emma Doyle, a livestock expert and lecturer at the University of New England's School of Environmental and Rural Science, to ABC News.


In the comments section, Reba Wilson (@rebawilsongirl) speculated on the mystery saying that this could be due to inflammation. “Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) is the main cause of clinical signs of listeriosis. Inflammation usually affects one side of the brain, hence why we typically see unilateral signs such as circling, excessive salivation and paralysis of the affected," she wrote.


Wilson’s hypothesis is backed by science. This kind of circling in sheep is known as a symptom of Listeriosis, also called “circling disease" in sheep. According to Michigan State University, Listeriosis is an infectious disease mostly observed in sheep and goats, most commonly causing encephalitis, but also capable of causing a blood infection and abortion.

Listeriosis is caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes and it commonly infects the animals in cooler climates. This affirms the possibility that the sheep moving in circles were suffering from this disease, as the climate of Inner Mongolia during November is typically freezing cold. This bacteria can be found in the soil, food sources, the gut, and feces of healthy animals. 


There could be another possibility. According to Dan’s Pet Care, one possible explanation for animals walking in circles is “mass hysteria.” Mass hysteria, also known as mass psychogenic illness, is a phenomenon that occurs when a group of animals exhibit similar physical or emotional symptoms due to a shared belief or fear. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including social isolation, stress, or a perceived threat.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Quang Nguyen Vinh
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh

Additionally, a potential reason for this strange behavior is “isolation for prolonged periods.” Matt Bell, a professor and director at the Department of Agriculture at Hartpury University, in Gloucester, England told Newsweek, "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 as to where they can go. This is not good. Then the other sheep join as they are flock animals and bond or join their friends."

While experts thought that the cause behind sheep’s bizarre behavior could be a disease or psychological condition, people had their other ideas. @C_Flarity commented on the video, “What's freakiest about this is it looks close to a perfect circle!” Dr. Doyle thought the same thing and told ABC News that it would be highly unlikely for sheep to form such a perfect, concentric shape, without some sort of interference.


@joncutt reflected that it could be some kind of stuck loop behavioral pattern like the "death spiral" ants can sometimes get caught in, whereas, many people likened this performance with sheep sensing some strange activity in tectonic plates or geology.


Still, several viewers were unable to believe that the sheep were walking in a circle for over 12 days. But @Drpeterokongo shared a similar scenario, “The white rhino at the Nairobi National Park has also been walking in circles but anticlockwise. A police station in Maragua has witnessed thousands of bats flying above the station for 2 days in a row day and night.”

Speaking to Metro, the sheep owner, Ms Miao, revealed that all of it started with a few sheep before the whole flock joined. There were reportedly 34 sheep pens at the spot, but only the sheep in the number 13 pen moved in this way. He added that the sheep started moving in circles on November 4 and continued for over two weeks.

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