Over 300 reindeer dead after single lightning strike

An entire herd of reindeer was wiped out by one bolt of lightning on a mountain plateau in southern Norway this week. Known for it’s breathtaking scenic view, Hardangervidda is known to attract tourist throughout the year. During a migration from east to west for breeding season, the reindeer were huddled together during a massive storm. The powerful lightning strike killed 323 reindeer including 70 calves. Five reindeer survived the strike but had to be put down due to severe injuries.

Kjartan Knuten, a Nature Inspectorate official from the Norwegian Environment Agency, told the New York Times,

We are not familiar with any previous happening on such a scale. 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.

Reindeer often huddle together in groups during thunderstorms, 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.”

The horrific scene was discovered by another agent conducting a survey before a controlled hunt to cull a portion of the herd. The hunt started on August 20 and is scheduled to continue throughout September. The original goal of the hunt was to reduce the 11,000 – 15,000 population by roughly 15-25%.

Olav Strand of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research discussed the conditions required for such a massive death toll with the New York Times,

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. They were standing on a hill, moving up that hill. They seem to have fallen dead on the ground, exactly where they stood. Reindeer are herd animals, unlike elks. They gather in groups, and that is how accidents like this one can happen.”

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