When Knut Nylend, an official from the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate (Statens naturoppsyn – NNI) went out on a routine inspection near Hardangervidda National Park on Friday, he wasn’t expecting to see hundreds of dead reindeer lying across a field.
“They were lying there dead in a fairly concentrated area. Reindeer are pack animals and are often close together. During a heavy thunderstorm, they may have gathered even closer together out of fear,” NNI spokesman Knut Nylend told Norwegian news outlet NTB, as cited by The Local.
All of the reindeer – both adults and calves – were found within a radius of just 50 meters (165 feet).
Although the flock was found in a hunting area, it was clear that the reindeer hadn’t been shot. NNI officials believe they were struck by lightning during a powerful storm that passed through the area.
“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 strike; that would only be speculation,” Nylend said.
The unusual occurrence was enough to prompt other NNI employees to fly to the off-the-beaten-path area, which is located on a plateau between Møsvatn and Kalhovd in Telemark.
“We sent up a team of eight people to take samples to be sent to the Norwegian Veterinary Institute for research. Then we will know for sure how the animals died,” said Nylend.
The animals will be tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD), which was found in reindeer earlier this year. However, authorities are almost certain that the animals were killed by a lightning strike, due to their extremely close proximity to one another.
Officials have not yet determined whether the reindeer corpses will be removed from the area or left where they are. The site is desolate, located a sizable distance away from the nearest mountains trail.
Much of the plateau is protected as part of Hardangervidda National Park, which is home to approximately 10,000 reindeer, making it Norway’s largest wild reindeer range.