The Mystery Of The Great Sheep Panic

There have been many strange and mysterious happenings recorded throughout history, and one of them is the Great Sheep Panic of 1888. The cause of the incident has been discussed for years, and many theories attempt to explain what occurred. But to this day, no one has been able to make sense of the baffling event.

On the evening of November 3, 1888, in the countryside of Oxfordshire, England, tens of thousands of sheep were reported to have gone berserk, destroying properties, running wildly on the fields, and pushing their way through fences (via Mysterious Universe). The incident started at about 8 p.m., and by the next day, people in the area banded together to round up the sheep. A lot of the animals were found hidden in different areas, with panic evident in their appearance and behavior.

Two local farmers who witnessed the incident described it to a local magazine, per Amusing Planet. "At a time as near eight o'clock as possible the tens of thousands of sheep folded in the large sheep-breeding districts, north, east, and west of Reading were taken with a sudden fright, jumping their hurdles, escaping from the fields, and running hither and thither," they said in a letter to the editor of the Hardwicke's Science-gossip. The next day, the farmers said the sheep looked "terror-stricken."

What caused the sheep panic?

Some thought the event was a result of mischievous pranksters who scared the sheep, but that was ruled out as several areas were affected and the sheep panic happened at the same time in various locations. According to Amusing Planet, the farmers who wrote to the magazine assumed it was weather-related, as they reported flashes of lighting on the night of the incident. However, there was nothing unusual about the weather, and lighting has never caused thousands of sheep to panic. In addition, several flocks were affected simultaneously as the sheep ran around some 200 square miles.

Charles Fort, a paranormal researcher, brushed aside all of the popular theories and said that they didn't explain what happened, Mysterious Universe reports. "Something of an alarming nature and a pronounced degree occurred somewhere near Reading, Berkshire, upon this evening," he said. In the end, the Great Sheep Panic of 1888 was never solved, but another mysterious sheep panic occurred just four years later in 1893.

Oxfordshire was again the location of the event, and farmers from various areas reported the same thing — frightened sheep and destroyed property. It was assumed that a dog or fox scared the sheep, but that was hard to believe, as like what happened in 1888, sheep in different counties were affected all at the same time. One of the descriptions that both the 1888 and 1893 share is that witnesses said the skies were exceptionally dark.

Natural or paranormal phenomenon?

Sheep are sensitive animals, and they are quite easy to send into a panic, Esoterx reports. The eerily dark nights in both 1888 and 1893 may have been the reason for the panic. But if that were true, some believe there would have been more instances of sheep panicking. Nevertheless, Oliver Aplin, a naturalist, studied the phenomenon and concluded that panic was the result of the unusually dark skies.

Aplin conducted research and talked to several people who described the scenes on the nights of the sheep panics. Some said that the skies were so dark that "a man could not see his own hand," while others said that it was like "being in a dark room" (via Mysterious Universe). Aplin explained that the extreme darkness may have disoriented the sheep and caused them to panic the way they did. Still, others guess that the incidents may have been caused by the paranormal. To this day, there is no definitive answer to the mystery, and we may never really know the cause of the Great Sheep Panic.