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Lightning Strikes Kill Hundreds of Reindeer

August 30, 2016

That headline is not a joke. There’s something weird going on in Scandinavia that involves reindeer, and unfortunately it doesn’t involve Santa, red noses, or delivering presents to all the children of the world.
Here’s a freak story of the powerful effects of weather and electricity. A recent thunderstorm in Norway killed 323 reindeer (including 70 calves) making it one of the deadliest lightning strikes in recorded history. (Ironically, the bodies of all those poor deer were discovered in the remote southern Norwegian region of Hardangervidda by a group of deer hunters.)
While being struck by lightning is a real fear for people, most humans (and certainly no animals) have any idea that it strikes other living things, too. Animals as varied as seal pups, elephants, giraffes, and turkeys have all been reported to have been struck down by electricity by the sky.
The reason why so many animals can get struck by lightning at the same time is because the victims were herd animals. Reindeer, like sheep (or elephants, or turkeys), tend to group, or self-herd. If a storm is gathering in the sky, and rains start and thunder rumbles, a few of the animals will head for shelter under trees, and the rest will at least try to follow. If the lightning strikes that tree—as lightning is wont to do—or even near the tree, it can shock everyone huddled closed together. This is due to ground current. After the bolt hits the ground (or an animal), it travels along the surface of the ground, and to other victims. It’s extremely common for groups of 10 to 20 sheep or deer to get killed by a single blast of lightning—but not hundreds.
Amazingly, this isn’t even the deadliest example of widespread death of animals from lightning. In 1918, a herd of 654 sheep on Mill Canyon Peak in Utah were all struck.

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