Scientist offers explanation for ‘great sheep mystery’

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The animals on a Chinese farm, filmed walking in circles for days, may be suffering from claustrophobia

A scientist has offered a rather sad explanation for a bizarre phenomenon in which hundreds of sheep were seen walking in circles for 12 days on a farm in China.

Matt Bell, a professor and director at Hartpury University’s agriculture department in the UK, said the animals that featured in a viral video may have been suffering from claustrophobia-related stress.

“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,” he told Newsweek.

Being flock animals, other sheep joined their “friends,” Bell added.

Some other theories, however, suggest the animals may have been suffering from a bacterial disease called listeriosis. The illness can cause disorientation and perplexing behavior. However, the fact that the disease usually kills an animal within a couple of days suggests this hypothesis is unlikely.

The video was originally posted on Twitter by People’s Daily. According to the state-run Chinese outlet, which dubbed the phenomenon a “great sheep mystery,” the footage was recorded in the province of Inner Mongolia.

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“The sheep are healthy and the reason for the weird behavior is still a mystery,” People’s Daily said in a post earlier this month.

In an interview with local outlets last week, the farm’s owner, identified as Ms. Miao, said the circular motion started with just a few sheep before others from the same pen joined later. Flocks of sheep from 33 pens had been acting in a normal way, Ms. Miao said.

There have been no updates from the farm since mid-November.

Last year, a sheep flock in East Sussex, England prompted a similar stir after being photographed standing in concentric circles.

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