An official from the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate (Statens naturoppsyn - NNI) was on a routine inspection on Friday when he walked into an area where dead reindeer were lying close together on the ground.
A total of 323 of the animals were confirmed dead and it is believed that the flock was struck by lightning when a powerful storm passed through Telemark.
“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 NTB.
Nylend found the animals in a private hunting area on the plateau between Møsvatn and Kalhovd in Telemark. It is well off the beaten track and relatively far from the nearest trail in the mountains.
NNI employees were flown into the hard-to-access area on Sunday to count the dead reindeer and take samples from their bodies.
“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.
“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.
It has not yet been determined whether the dead reindeer will be left where they are or removed.
Approximately 10,000 reindeer migrate over an area of 8,000 square kilometres on Hardangervidda, making it Norway's largest wild reindeer range. Nylend says the animals are shy and move around in larger and smaller herds depending on the weather. The hunting season began on August 20th and that also affects the animals' migration.
Some 8,000 hunting permits have been issued for Hardangervidda, but NNI expects that only about 30 percent of the issued quota will be taken.