A lightning storm in central Norway has killed 323 reindeer, including 70 calves, reports the country's Environment Agency.

[Warning: Some viewers may find this footage distressing.]

The bodies of the animals were discovered by an official from the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate (NNI) during a routine inspection on Friday, lying close together in a small area just south of the Hardangervidda mountain plateau. 

Reports say the remote area had been experiencing some severe weather, and it's thought the herd was struck during a recent powerful storm. Officials have since collected samples, which will be sent off for testing to confirm exactly how the animals died. 

"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," NNI spokesperson Knut Nylend told the media.

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Image: Håvard Kjøntvedt, Environment Directorate / SNO

The Hardangervidda mountain plateau in central southern Norway is home to some of the largest herds of wild reindeer in the world. The animals migrate across the plateau each year, moving from their winter grazing in the east to their breeding grounds in the west. According to The Local, some 10,000 animals migrate over an area of around ​​8,000 square kilometres.

While the large number of dead animals in Hardangervidda has surprised experts, it's not that uncommon for lightning to kill entire herds, notes John Jensenius, a lightning safety expert from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in an interview with The Verge. Pack animals, he explains, tend to huddle together under trees in stormy weather, so it's possible for a strike to kill the whole group:

"First, there’s a direct strike — this is what most people think of when they think of lightning — that hits the tree or maybe the ground nearby. The energy then spreads along the ground surface, and if you’re anywhere near that lightning strike, you absorb it and get shocked. Lightning goes up one leg and down another. Animals are more vulnerable because their legs are spread out more, so the ground currents travel more easily in their bodies. It doesn’t matter if they’re touching, or exactly how close they are, it matters that they were all in the area hit by lightning." 

Exactly what will happen to the reindeer carcasses is still unclear. Local officials will be revisiting the area to study the animals further, and a decision will be made once test results are available.   

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Image: Håvard Kjøntvedt, Environment Directorate / SNO
Reindeer2 2016 08 29
Image: Håvard Kjøntvedt, Environment Directorate / SNO
Reindeer3 2016 08 29
Image: Håvard Kjøntvedt, Environment Directorate / SNO


Top header image: Lía, Flickr