In June 2022, thousands of cattle died after multiple days of excessive heat in Kansas. When a video was shared online that showed these cows dead on the side of the road, it was often accompanied by the baseless, conspiratorial claim that the cattle were intentionally killed in order to create an artificial food shortage. A few days after that video went viral, another video was posted online that supposedly showed an incident in which hundreds of animals, this time sheep, had "mysteriously" died in Idaho.
While the video is real, it was not taken in the United States in June 2022. The dead sheep were filmed circa August 2021 in the Lesser Caucasus Mountains in the nation of Georgia. Furthermore, these sheep were not killed by a "who." It is believed that these animals died during a lightning storm.
The English-language Georgian news site agenda.ge reported in Aug. 12, 2021, that more than 500 sheep died in the incident. While an official cause of death was not given, the shepherd said that the animals died during a thunderstorm after the mountain was hit by two lightning strikes:
Around 550 sheep were killed during a lightning strike on Mount Abul in the Ninotsminda region in southern Georgia on August 9. Deputy Mayor of Ninotsminda Artavaz Tonoiani says that there were about 1,500 sheep on the pasture which is located five kilometers from the village of Tambovka, Ninotsminda.
Here's a video showing the aftermath of the incident:
According to Express, the dead sheep were cremated on-site, as it was difficult to remove their bodies due to the mountainous terrain. Agenda.ge reported that the market rate for sheep at the time was about 350 GEL (or $113.45).
While this incident involved an especially large number of sheep, this wasn't the first time that a group of animals have died during a lighting strike. In September 2020, two giraffes were killed during a lightning strike in South Africa; in 2018, about 70 sheep were killed during a lighting strike in Turkey, and, in 2016, about 300 reindeer were killed during a storm in Norway.
After videos circulated showing hundreds of dead reindeer, The New York Times spoke to a lightning specialist to find out how a lightning strike could result in so many casualties.
How could a lightning strike create so many casualties?
“Lightning does not strike a point, it strikes an area,” said John Jensenius, a lightning safety specialist with the National Weather Service. “The physical flash you see strikes a point, but that lightning is radiating out as ground current and it’s very deadly.”
It’s possible that a single bolt could have hit one or two reindeer directly, he said, but the majority of the carnage was caused by ground current. When the electric discharge touches down it spreads out in search of places to travel. The reindeer, with their four hooves on the grass, presented potential pathways where that current could flow.