On Aug. 26, 2016, 323 reindeer were struck and killed by a lightning storm, in Norway, according to the Norwegian Government.
During the lightning strikes, the animals were located on a mountain plateau in the Hardangervidda mountain range, in Central Norway. The landscape, where the electrically charged strikes occurred, is known for the reindeer population. They graze on the lichen, which is found on most of the exposed rocks scattered across the area. This specific piece of land is preserved, due to the fact that it is part of the national park, making it safe for the reindeer to go about their business. Unfortunately, this could not protect them from the terrible forces of Mother Nature.
The news about the deaths of the reindeer was reported, when The Norwegian Nature Inspectorate wrote, in a press release that the bodies of the animals had been found in the field by officials who were in the area. Nature authorities were making sure the hunting policies were still in check. It is estimated that 2,000 reindeer roam around the plateau, each year. Due to the lightning strike, one-sixth of the reindeer are gone; a significant gap in the population.
Knut Nylend, the spokesmen for The Norwegian Nature Inspectorate (NNI), told a local news outlet:
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.
Nylend continued speaking with the news outlet saying that reindeer are pack animals, therefore, the tend to stay close together. A thunderstorm could have caused them to gather even closer together, due to a feeling of fear.
According to John Jensenius, a lightning safety expert, it is not unusual for something like this to occur. He explained the situation in his own words during an interview with The Verge. He said that it is normal for animals to be killed by lightning. Though 323 is a significant number of deaths, there have been reports of 654 sheep being killed in a single area.
Animals gathered in a group are most likely to be killed by the ground current. The direct strike of lightning hits a tree or the ground near the herd. The energy then spreads across the ground. Animals near the initial strike will absorb the energy from the lightning resulting in an effective electrical shock.
While the animals were killed, fortunately, no one else was in the field during the storm, therefore, the human causality count was zero. Officials from the NNI arrived at the site of the lightning strike, on Sunday, August 28. They counted the animals and tested them for diseases, just to be safe. Four of the reindeer, in the area, had to be euthanized. During the disease testing, officials will be looking for potential viruses that attack reindeer. While the animals do not appear to have died from any type of disease, the NNI could not be too careful. In Northern Norway, a chronic wasting disease was responsible for the death of at least one animal.
That specific disease case occurred in April, and it was the first case in Europe. This instance led the experts, in Europe, to use extreme caution, regarding the spread of the disease. The illness, which is known to be neurological, has brought death to multiple elk herds, which are scattered across North America. The states, where herds of elk can be seen include Colorado, Montana, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, as well as some parts of Canada.
By Justin Messer
Edited by Jeanette Smith
NPR: 323 Reindeer Killed In Lightning Storm In Norway
The Verge: How exactly did lightning kill 323 reindeer in Norway?
Image Courtesy of pyttan14’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License