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Freakish Lightning Storm Kills 323 Reindeer in Norway

Getting struck by lightning is, for humans, a statistical long shot. Less so for reindeer.

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A freakish weather incident has put the “danger” back into Hardangervidda, a Norwegian nature preserve where more than 300 reindeer perished in a single flash of lightning on Friday.

A hunting warden for Hardangervidda stumbled upon the ghastly scene over the weekend. Norwegian officials had to put down five reindeer that survived the storm, out of a herd of 323, including 70 calves.

Photos released on Sunday showed a jumble of carcasses strewn across the rocky alpine plain.

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It’s unclear whether a single lightning bolt killed off the pack of 323 reindeer or if several bolts struck them over the course of a few minutes. Reindeer often react to stormy weather by huddling together, which likely explains how so many of them were killed.

“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. We don’t know if it was one or more lighting strikes,” a spokesman for the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate told Norwegian news agency NTB.

Reindeer are no strangers to the cruel twists of nature, especially this year.

Earlier this summer, an anthrax infection killed off more than 2,000 reindeer in the Siberian tundra after rising temperatures thawed the 75-year-old carcass of an anthrax-infected reindeer.

The entangled mass of dead reindeer also evoked images of another freakish incident in 2015, when an entire herd of 60,000 critically endangered antelopes mysteriously dropped dead in a matter of four days on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Photo credit: HAAVARD KJONTVEDT/Norwegian Enviroment Agency

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. Twitter: @HenryJohnsoon

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