In what appears to be a freak of nature, 323 reindeer, including 70 calves, were killed after they were struck by the same bolt of lightning in a Norwegian national park. While the numbers are staggering, it isn’t common for lightning to kill animals or individuals. India, too, has seen its fair share of lightning-related deaths. In fact, the National Crime Records Bureau has recorded over 2,000 individual deaths from every year since 2005. And yes, we’re not even counting the animals here. In June this year, 93 people were killed over a two-day span across the Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand.
But for the moment, we come back to the reindeer. Was it a freak of nature that killed 323 reindeer at one go? Yes, but one also needs to know that reindeer, like most animals that live in herds, tend to group together and huddle under trees during a thunderstorm. In the case of the reindeer, the lightning could have hit the tree or the ground. The energy then spreads along the surface and if an individual or animal is near the area where lightning has struck, then there is a high chance that they may absorb it and get electrocuted.
However, a major factor that is taken into consideration regarding the distance the current travels after lightning strikes. Irrespective of whether an individual or animal dies or survives a lightning strike, this is what happens. A current of electricity goes through your body, passes your nervous system and eventually stops your heart. If the current isn’t intense, one can be revived by CPR, but if the current is strong, like it was when it killed the reindeer, then even individuals have no chance of surviving.
India should worry about lightning because it is not categorised as a natural calamity, which means that unlike calamities such as earthquakes and floods, affected individuals and their families are not eligible for compensation from the government.
According to a report published in June’s edition of The Atlantic, two people in one million individuals die of lightning strikes. In comparison, the figure in the United States is 0.3 per million, while in Europe it is 0.2 per million individuals.
The Atlantic report adds that countries in the African continent have higher numbers, with Zimbabwe and Malawi reporting 20 and 84 deaths per million respectively, which makes it appear that lightning strikes affects the poor more than the rich. In a paper titled Lightning-caused Deaths and Injuries Related to Agriculture, its author Ronald L. Holle said that most of the victims who died due to lightning, were worked in paddy fields, which are flat and flooded lands.
Although Indian farmers use novel methods, there is a large population that still adopt techniques that were employed at the beginning of the 20th century. They say that lack of funding prevents them from buying newer state-of-the-art automated equipment, and therefore spend more time in fields.
Finally, unlike floods and earthquakes lightning happens in a few seconds, which makes it all the more dangerous. Since there is no disaster management to counter lightning, we should take the deaths of the 323 reindeer very seriously.