January 31, 2023

Wire Service Canada

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Science – This is why sheep go in circles

There are mysteries about which humanity continues to pretend that nothing happened, but which sooner or later must be solved. For example, aliens, the magical city of Atlantis, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and why the Mongolian sheep go in circles.

Setting aside the others, a team of three French scientists decided to focus their efforts, to remove at least one doubt from humanity. It all started from a certain flock of sheep in Mongolia, which for days and days began to move in circles, without stopping, day and night. An amateur video, which appeared on the network, aroused the curiosity of the English tabloid “People Daily” and immediately after that of the rest of the world. Since then, hypotheses and conjectures have intertwined: experts on roundabouts, shepherds and retired shepherds have had their say. Until the three Frenchmen who solved the mystery on the pages of the “Physics of Nature” appeared on the stage.

In fact, despite the joking tone used so far, it is very serious scientific research, which has revealed some animal behaviors that are still not entirely clear. So much so that the three scientists’ study is prior to the case of the Mongolian sheep, but according to some experts, it applies to that as well.

The team started by observing the movement of a herd, identifying different phases of the movements which were then recreated to allow at each phase to identify a “leader” animal that other similar animals would unanimously recognize, but only for a specific period. We pass to another person who decides on the new movement of the herd. The choice is not accidental, and often falls on the garments that are considered to be more prepared, able for example to determine the route of escape, and therefore to be followed step by step in the hope of saving themselves. In other words, it is a strange form of collective intelligence typical of animals accustomed to living in herds moving communally. After all, nothing strange: even humans, in a situation of danger, often rely on someone who seems more capable of guiding them to safety. A leader, however impromptu, may be able to show the way while remaining calm when others are panicking.

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It is a simple theory, the three admit, and which still needs to be confirmed by applying it to different types of animals, and above all to reveal by what signal the herd recognizes at that moment the leader to follow, if age or a more mandated rhythm Democracy leaves no one out.

Back to sheep in Mongolia, the mystery remains unsolved and (serious) theories speak of a possible infection with Listeria, a bacterium that causes confusion and unusual motor behavior in animals. But overall, even this hypothesis seems to falter: Symptoms generally go away after 48 hours, whereas the herd has been running in circles for over a month now.