A Gruesome Scene in Norway: 323 Dead Reindeer
Local officials believe animals were killed in freak lightning strike(s)
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2016 8:43 AM CDT
In this image made available by the Norwegian Environment Agency on Monday shows some of the more than 300 wild reindeer that were apparently killed by lighting in Hardangervidda, Norway, on Friday.   (Havard Kjotvedt/Norwegian Environment Agency, NTB scanpix, via AP)

(Newser) – In a story Sputnik News is labeling "Thor vs. Santa," a Norwegian environmental official making his rounds south of Hardangervidda on Friday stumbled upon a gruesome sight: more than 300 dead reindeer, apparently victims of a lightning strike, the Local reports.The reindeer—known as caribou in North America—were located in the county of Telemark, far from civilization on private hunting grounds. Although it's not uncommon for animals to be struck and killed by lightning, a decimation of this scale is less typical, a Norwegian Nature Inspectorate rep says. "Reindeer are pack animals and are often close together," he adds, noting that the scared animals may have crowded even closer together if they were spooked during a thunderstorm.

A spokesman for the Norwegian Environment Agency tells the AP they're not sure if there was one massive lightning strike or several at once. Among the dead were 70 calves, he notes, adding that reindeer tend to migrate across the plateau in that area as the seasons start to change. Hunting season had also started earlier this month, which may have affected migration on the exposed range. Although the bodies of dead animals are often left to decompose on their own, officials are taking samples—they're also testing for chronic wasting disease, a type of encephalopathy that affects deer species—to figure out a definitive cause of death and decide what to do with the corpses. (About 1,500 reindeer in Siberia were killed by anthrax last month.)