What you need to know:
- Lightning is a powerful electrical discharge made during thunderstorms where the electric current heats the air and the later expands/burst resulting in thunder
- The electric current can also move between the clouds where it can strike birds or other metallic objects like aircrafts.
The Trans Mara farmer whose 18 cattle were recently killed by lightening suffered loses close to Sh1 million. Since the exact location of a lightning strike or when it will occur again is a mystery, many are left wondering who the next victim is.
This is more so in Kenya where lightning is listed among the common hazards in all former provinces except Nairobi. Understanding the small things that can minimize the risk /losses is therefore necessary.
Lightning is a powerful electrical discharge made during thunderstorms where the electric current heats the air and the later expands/burst resulting in thunder. The electric current can move from the clouds to the earth where it can strike good conductors of electricity like humans or animals leading to burns, other injuries and even death.
The electric current can also move between the clouds where it can strike birds or other metallic objects like aircrafts. Lighting occurs mostly when it is raining but it has also been reported in the absence of rains. Lightning moving from the ground to the sky has also been reported.
The electric current can cause damage by directly hitting the object; indirectly by flashing from an object it initially landed on to the new object; an object stepping on a ground where the current in travelling through; or through the impact of lightning
When travelling from the cloud to the ground, the current targets the nearest electric transmitter on its path. If animals are grazing on an open field, current will hit the animal that is tallest say if cattle and sheep are grazing together; cattle have a higher chance of being hit.
If animals are grazing on a higher ground like a hill, while others are on a low lying ground, those on a higher ground are more likely to be hit. So height and electric conductivity of the object and its surrounding are among key factors.
If an electric current hits a tall object, like a tree, splashes of the current can hit a nearby object like animals or human beings taking shelter under the tree when it is raining. The next object does not necessarily have to be touching the object that was hit but it is in close proximity.
In this case, the second object is in direct contact with the first object that was hit. For example the animal might be leaning on a metallic fencing wire or on a tree.
When a current hits an object like a tree, and the ground happens to be moist (water is an electric current conductor), the current can travel on the ground for a few meters and if an animal is stepping on that ground, the current will climb on the first feet of the animal to encounter, like the fore of hind feet, go up then horizontally and come out through the hind legs and continue again on the ground path as long as it is conducive for the current to travel through.
During this movement in the animal, the current might affect the heart, the brain and the nervous system with heightened activity of the nerves thus affecting the animal to death depending on the intensity. If the current is high, it might even burn the organs along the path in the body.
Sometimes the current might hit an object like a tree leading to splintering and broken branches that can hit an nearby animal; the impact of the current when it reaches an animal might also be strong enough to throw the animal off the ground; the bright electric light might temporarily or permanently blind the animal; the impact sound can cause temporarily or permanent deafness and so on.
2 Facts about livestock and lightning
When there is lightning and thunder, animals tend to huddle together and more so near a tree or fence especially when it is raining. Both metallic fence and trees are prone to lightning hit. Earthing the fence at strategic spaces by having a vertical wire that go through the horizontal wires to the ground, minimizes the exposure.
A concrete slab or a poor electric conducting floor around a tree where animals take shelter and erecting a dry wooden fence around the tree reduces the step-on risk.
Have more than one tree spread across a grazing field to minimize the risk as what happens when all animals shelter under a lone tree.
Higher grounds are more likely to be hit, so during risky times, herd animals on lower terrains.
Lightning that occurs in the absence of rains is a major cause of bush fires. If the animals are in dry lands during such times, direct them to a house or shelter away from the bush.
Supportive treatment assists the animals that don’t die from the hazard. Immediate attention by a Veterinarian might save a few animals
In Lightning prone area, “Insure to be sure” as there are insurance companies that insure against lightning, a hazard that might strike unexpectedly with resulting overwhelming losses.