323 reindeer have apparently been struck by lightning and died Friday on a remote mountain plateau in Norway last week. Approximately 70 of them were calves. The Norwegian government estimates about 2,000 reindeer live in the region.
Shocking reindeer deaths
This macabre scene greeted an unsuspecting gamekeeper last Friday on a rugged Alpine mountain plateau in central Norway, called Hardangervidda. The plateau is normally an ideal habitat for the reindeer because it has tasty lichens that the deer love and is in a protected national park.
In a press release the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate spokesman, Knut Neyland told the Norwegian news source, NTB, “We’ve heard about animals being struck by lightning and killed, but I don’t remember hearing about lightning killing animals on this scale before. Reindeer are pack animals and are often close together. During a heavy thunderstorm, they may have gathered even closer together out of fear.”
Official Kjartan Knudsen said,“We’ve never seen anything like this on this scale. There were very strong storms in the area on Friday. The animals stay close together in bad weather and these ones were hit by lightning.”
Although records of animals being killed by lightning can be somewhat unreliable, this odd and rare natural disaster possibly counts as the deadliest lightning strike on record. Five animals also had to be euthanized in the process and officials told the press that they were not sure yet what they will do with the bodies. They will be conducting additional testing for disease as a precaution, although there was no sign of illness. There had been an outbreak of chronic wasting disease that did kill one reindeer in a herd in northern Norway, earlier in the year.
How could lightning kill all these reindeer at once? Angela Chen of The Verge asked John Jensenius, a lightning safety expert from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He answered that when animals or people are in a large group like that, it’s usually the ground current that gets them.
“First, there’s a direct strike — this is what most people think of when they think of lightning — that hits the tree or maybe the ground nearby. The energy then spreads along the ground surface, and if you’re anywhere near that lightning strike, you absorb it and get shocked.”
“He further adds, “Lightning goes up one leg and down another. Animals are more vulnerable because their legs are spread out more,… It doesn’t matter if they’re touching, or exactly how close they are, it matters that they were all in the area hit by lightning. Ground currents are the thing that’s responsible for the most lightning deaths and injuries in both people and animals.”
Meet Sparky a 2013 lightning strike survivor:
The Washington Post cited that cows and pigs are the most common victims of lightning strikes. Guinness reports the highest number thus far were 68 Jersey cows in Australia in 2005. But sea lions, caribou and wild turkeys have also been documented common victims of lightning strikes, as well as elephants, antelope and a flock of 52 geese in Canada in 1932. Some good did come out of all those geese deaths, though, when they were collected and used for wild-goose dinners, reported science blogger, Darren Naish.
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