Hundreds of wild reindeer have been killed after being struck by lightning at a nature park in Norway. The deaths of more than 300 reindeer came during a thunderstorm on the Hardangervidda plateau in the south of the country on 26 August. Local gamekeepers said they counted the lightning-charred bodies of 323 animals, including 70 calves, which was described by a spokesman as an "unusually high" death toll.

The Norwegian Nature Inspectorate stated that the total included five of the reindeer that had to be humanely killed after the storm. Knut Nylend of the Inspectorate said the animals were probably standing close to each other during the storm. "There was an especially heavy thunderstorm in the afternoon. The herd was probably struck dead by the lightning," he told Norwegian national broadcaster NRK.

"This is very special," he said. "I've heard of cattle being killed by lightning, but not in such huge volumes. "The animals' waterlogged coats may have increased electrical conductivity between them. Some of the animals may also have died from psychological shock, rather than burns or electrocution: reindeer are highly nervous creatures.

The Hardangervidda is home to southern Norway's largest herd of wild reindeer, containing around 10,000 animals. The area also contains farmed herds. The reindeer's natural +habitat is wild tundra and normally their greatest threat comes in the form of loss of grazing areas and migration corridors to human infrastructure and other rural construction projects. A lesser threat is climate change and an accompanying loss of habitat areas.

Meanwhile, the reindeer deaths are not the only incident of mass animal death from lightning in recent days. On 25 August, 38 sheep died from lightning in the Indian district of Kanchipuram in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The lightning accompanied a storm during the monsoon season. Some of the animals are believed to have died from heart failure, but autopsy investigations have yet to take place. The owner of the sheep said that the animals were not insured and that he has incurred a large financial loss.

Reindeer grazing in their natural habitat Reuters