Over 300 reindeer were killed by a lightning strike Friday in southern Norway, officials from the Norwegian Environment Agency reported. The pack of 323 reindeer, including 70 calves, was found bunched together by an official from the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate after a heavy storm passed through the Hardangervidda National Park area, according to the Norwegian News Agency, known as NTB.
A NNI agent told NTB that he believed the reason so many reindeer were found dead was because they were afraid of the storm and huddled close together for protection. The animals were in a private hunting area in Telemark, away from the national park's mountain trails, according to NTB. The park is the country's largest wild reindeer range, holding about 10,000 reindeer.
"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," NNI spokesman Knut Nylend told NTB. "We don't know if it was one or more lighting strike; that would only be speculation."
Nylend said a team was flown into the mountainous region to collect samples of the dead reindeer and take them to the Norwegian Veterinary Institute for research into what exactly killed the herd. Officials are still trying to decide whether to remove the dead animals, each of which can weigh up to around 260 pounds, or leave them in the mountains.
The largest death tolls for livestock and humans from fatal lightning strikes both pale in comparison to the reindeer deaths from Friday. In 2005, 68 cows were killed by a single lightning bolt in Australia. In 1971, 91 people were killed after a lightning bolt hit a plane, causing it to crash into the Amazon. If the reindeer were struck and killed by a single lightning bolt, this could be the deadliest strike in history by a long shot.