Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Mother Nature has a dual image both nurturing and cruel, even to her own. This latter reputation came to the forefront in Friday August 26 at a mountain plateau of Hardangervidda National Park in southern Norway, when a herd of reindeer huddling together during stormy weather was wiped out to the last by a lightning strike.

By Sunday August 28 the Norwegian Environment Agency released pictures of the bloodless yet grisly carnage. According to The New York Times, the NEA counted 323 reindeer dead – an entire herd without survivors – including 70 calves. The agency inspector who discovered the carcasses after the Friday storm also found five reindeer who survived the lightning strike but whose injuries were so severe that they were all euthanized, adding to the final tally.

Kjartan Knutsen of the Nature Inspectorate office of the NEA was overwhelmed by the natural tragedy, saying he was not aware of any previous event of such magnitude. On an interview Monday August 29 he noted, “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.”

Knutsen further explained how reindeer tended to huddle together during stormy weather, a survival strategy against the cold brought by rain. “But in this case their survival strategy may have caused them their life,” he said. Lightning striking the wet ground would have carried a current through the animals’ hooves, dooming them to a literal heart-stopping electrocution leading to their deaths by the lack of blood circulation.

Hardangervidda plateau rarely gets human visitors outside of hikers and occasional wildlife tourists who want a showcase of nature’s beauty. The wildlife inspector who discovered the dead herd was supposed to be conducting a reindeer count in preparation for a controlled hunting season to cull the herds’ populations. From August 20 to the end of September, the culling is projected to hunt down some 2,000 to 3,000 reindeer out of the park’s estimated 11,000 to 15,000 in total population. The 323 dead, while large, is still a portion of the planned hunting target, thus it was decided that the culling continue in spite of it.
Another researcher who looked at the site was Norwegian Institute for Nature Research senior researcher Olav Strand. He noted that the lightning strike killing was similar to a 2005 avalanche in Norway’s Snohetta peak that buried and killed 280 reindeer. The close number of casualties he attributed to the reindeer’s herd nature. Another notable animal kill by lightning strike occurred in Australia in 2005 when 68 cows died to one lightning bolt.
As of Monday the reindeer carcasses remain on site, as they died naturally. But owing to the large numbers Knutsen says the NEA is exploring alternative means of disposal.

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