A herd of reindeer was hit by lightning in Norway, killing at least 323 of the animals, officials say. Reindeer are known to nestle together during storms.
A mountain plateau in southern Norway is known for its natural beauty and popular among tourists and hikers. As the season changes, thousands of reindeer transfer across the plateau, moving between drier lands in the east, where they graze on lichens and wetter lands in the west, where they breed.
But, a storm transformed the plateau into a horror scene. A lightning appeared to have killed an entire herd of reindeer, at least 323 of them including 70 calves, and five reindeer that had to be put down because they were severely injured in the storm.
“We are not familiar with any previous happening on such a scale,” Kjartan Knutsen, an official at the Nature Inspectorate, part of the Norwegian Environment Agency, said in a phone interview, New York Times posted.
“Individual animals do from time to time get killed by lightning, and there are incidents where sheep have been killed in groups of 10 or even 20, but we have never seen anything like this.”
Officials surmised that an extremely high discharge of electricity from the storm and the interaction of the lightning with the earth and water had injured and killed the animals.
“Reindeer often huddle together in groups during thunderstorms,” Mr. Knutsen said.
“It is a strategy they have to survive, but in this case their survival strategy might have cost them their life. The corpses are all lying in one big group, piled together.”
A senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Olav Strand, inspected the site and had said that the animals appeared to have died, figuring as if someone just turned off a switch. He said that the air was filled with a smell that seemed both sweet and sour.
“The lightning was fierce, the amount of water pouring down that day was incredible, and the whole group was found dead at the scene, placed as they usually are, huddled into a group, with some standing in two lines on the side and a larger congregation in the middle,” he said.
“They were standing on a hill, moving up that hill. They seem to have fallen dead on the ground, exactly where they stood.”
“We are shocked by the extent of this tragedy,” Anton Krag, zoologist and chief executive of the Norwegian Animal Protection Alliance.
“However, this freak event had unavoidable natural causes and is overshadowed by the animal suffering inflicted on reindeer by human activity. Each year, hundreds of reindeer are killed by trains because the Norwegian government is not willing to invest in preventive measures like fences. Hundreds of reindeer are also wounded by trophy hunters for the sake of recreation.”
Though it is uncommon for reindeer and other wildlife to be killed by lightning strikes, the Norwegian Environment Agency said that this is the deadliest known event to date, Live Science reports.
According to the Norwegian Environment Agency, samples were collected from the fallen animals as part of a national survey to test for chronic wasting disease (CWD) — a nervous system disease found in deer and elk that results in brain lesions.
Normally, the agency leave the dead animals where they fell and let the nature take its course, but because of concerns over the spread of CWD, its officials will wait for the test results before a final decision is made.