How a Single Lightning Strike Instantly Killed Hundreds of Reindeer

Lightning kills 300 reindeer in Norway Reuters
Lightning kills 300 reindeer in Norway Reuters


Imagine you're hanging out with your reindeer pals, standing antler to antler, munching on some of the finest vegetation this side of the fjord. Did someone say #squadgoals? Sure, it's raining, but that's no reason to run for shelter.

Then the sky seems to split in two, broken by a brilliant flash. Within a split second, it's gone from white to dark, then ... nothing. While experts can't be sure exactly what killed 323 dead reindeer recenly found together in Norway, the signs point to a massive lightning strike.

An estimated 10,000 reindeer roam about 3,088 square miles (8,000 square kilometers) in Norway's southern Telemark county, which houses Norway's largest wild reindeer refuge. The 323 reindeer found dead, which included both adults and calves, were in a concentrated area of about 200 feet (62 meters), reported Knut Nylend of the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate operations center.

While somewhat unusual, it's not the first time entire herds of animals have been wiped out by lightning strikes. Just a few days after the August 2016 death of the Norwegian reindeer herd, 10 head of cattle huddling under a tree were killed by a lightning strike in Texas. Eyewitness Victor Benson told a local television station that the cattle dropped dead "in the blink of an eye." And in May 2016, 21 cattle were killed when lightning struck a metal feeder they were eating from in McCook County, South Dakota — at an estimated loss to the rancher of about $45,000.

Livestock and other animals out in the open are especially at risk for lightning strikes. Some estimates suggest that lightning causes as many as 80 percent of accidental animal deaths. However, animals don't often draw direct strikes. Animals often seek shelter under trees and as the tallest point in a field or pasture, the tree will attract lightning and the electric shock jumps to the animals underneath. In addition, lightning that hits the ground can travel up through an animal's legs and cause its heart to stop. The average lightning strike carries 20,000 or more amps of current, more than enough to take down a herd of reindeer — or anything else, for that matter.