Every so often, you come across something that really leaves you wondering. It just seems in explicable, be it an impossible photo or a surreal video, all you can think is 'what is this?'.
Posts that strange tend to get popular as everyone tries to figure out what's going on. People will make their best guesses, weigh in with theories and leads, or just watch on in wonder. Or horror, depending on the content.
That's exactly what happened to a video of a strange herd of sheep that circulated Twitter, viewers everywhere left questioning what on earth they could be doing.
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An Uneasy Feeling
Have you ever encountered something that left you unsettled? Not scared, not confused, but unsettled. Of course, those two feelings can creep in after the fact, but we're talking an experience that felt so deeply strange and bizarre that it can only ring as 'creepy'.
That's what many Twitter users felt after a video from People's Daily, China went viral, showing a herd of sheep engaging in a puzzling phenomenon.
The video in question showed a herd of sheep walking in a perfect circle, captured by what appears to be a CCTV camera set up on a farm in China-controlled territory within Mongolia, a real-time video taken with a phone in between cuts.
The caption reads, "The great sheep mystery! Hundreds of sheep walk in a circle for over 10 days in N China's Inner Mongolia. The sheep are healthy and the reason for the weird behavior is still a mystery."
Viewers were baffled by what they were seeing and immediately began theorizing what could be causing the behavior.
A Few Possibilities
Of course, there were some suggesting that something paranormal or alien was at play. Be it alien control or spiritual posession, the video was eerie enough that if one of those were proven to be the case, it would feel thematically correct.
Others suggested that, though strange, it was a case of sheep doing what sheep do, following a leader and moving in packs.
Another common, but more scientifically sound, answer was that the sheep had come down with an infection called listeriosis.
Missing The Mark
Listeriosis is caused by bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes which is commonly found in cattle feed, namely rotting produce and mud. It causes an asymmetrical neurological infection in the brain stem, which can cause paralysis in one side of an animal's face as well as give them a tendency to walk in circles, which is why it's also known as the 'circling disease'.
However, experts who saw the video don't believe that to be the case, as the sheep are lacking a number of telltale signs that would point to listeriosis being the cause.
Not Quite Right
Professor of cattle and sheep production medicine at the University of Melbourne, Andrew Fisher, thinks there's something else at play here.
"They'd show a variety of circling and other neurological conditions and they'd get quite sick — some would die," he explained to ABC News, "The way it usually manifests is not in half the flock — it's sort of between 1 and 10 per cent might be affected."
Animals with listeriosis also don't tend to move in a perfect circle, but rather in their own pattern, one that just happens to turn back in on itself often enough.
More Behind The Scenes
Instead, Fisher thinks this behavior might be a developed response caused by being kept in a small, confined area. Some zoo animals have been seen to do the same when they're either in enclosures that are too small, or they lack a proper amount of stimulus. This repetitive walking born of stress is called "stereotypical pacing."
"In that scenario, they have a very defined or consistent, unvarying pathway," Fisher explained, which does fit the bill of what's seen in the video.
However, he's still not convinced. "One suspects there's more going on behind the video that we don't see."
Dr. Emma Doyle, a livestock expert and lecturer at the University of New England's School of Environmental and Rural Science, was also puzzled by the video.
"As soon as I looked at it, I thought, 'I've never seen sheep act like that,'" she said, "It seems a bit dodgy. It looks sort of set up where they've put something in the middle to stop them going in."
She believes the video might be a hoax of some kind, with it being either being edited or simply not being clear enough to tell if there's something in the center and that the sheep are pacing around.
She also doesn't believe the claim that the sheep were walking for days on end. "They're not going to go 12 days without water and food," she said plainly. She's right, that wouldn't be possible without the sheep either collapsing or passing away, making this video much harder to believe.
"It's very mysterious and at first look, a little hoax-y to me. If it's real then I stand to be corrected."
All In All
So, what's more likely? A herd of sheep responding to some sort of alien beacon, or one sheep becoming bored and starting to pace in a circle with many more joining in because that's what sheep do?
Even if the explanation is tremendously normal, caused by an average animal reaction to frustration and lack of freedom, there's no denying the initial strangeness felt when watching the video for the first time.
As with many viral moments that spread across the internet like wildfire, it's important to question the things you watch and not take everything at face value. This video is a clear reminder that just because one source says one thing, that doesn't make it true.
There are experts out there on every subject, and their analyzing word in the face of misinformation is more important than ever. It's not wrong or shameful to have believed something you were told that wound up being false, but it is important to rectify that information in your brain and ensure you know the truth at the end of it all.
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