‘Landscape of fear’: what a mass of rotting reindeer carcasses taught scientists

When 323 reindeer were killed by lightning on a remote Norwegian plateau, their bodies were left for nature to take its course

In August 2016, a park ranger stumbled upon 323 dead wild tundra reindeer in Norway’s remote Hardangervidda plateau. They had been killed in a freak lightning event. But instead of removing the carcasses, the park decided to leave them where they were, allowing nature to take its course – and scientists to study this island of decomposition and how it might change the arctic tundra ecosystem.

Over the years scientists observed the bloated, fly-infested bodies turn into dry skeletons. The latest paper, published by the Royal Society in June, looked at the creation of a “landscape of fear”, as top predators such as wolverines, golden eagles and arctic foxes took advantage of the carrion.

We’ve been focussing on animals when they’re alive. I think people are now kind of warming up to cold bodies, at least in wildlife research

Related: Dutch rewilding experiment sparks backlash as thousands of animals starve

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