An interesting question: do giraffes get struck by lightning more often than other animals? At first, it looks funny, but when you think that giraffes are way taller and pointier than other land animals, why they shouldn’t be? And, interestingly, there are studies about that subject, and some of them are even peer-reviewed!

An animal getting struck by lightning is actually more common than one might think. In general, four-legged animals, especially if they are large, are more vulnerable to lightning strikes because the ground electric current has a higher chance to go through vital organs (see the image below). According to a 2012 study, “in regions where lightning is prevalent, either seasonally or throughout the year, a considerable number of wild, captive, and tame animals are injured due to lightning-generated effects”.

On the contrary, a little mouse, for example, has a very low risk of being hit or being hurt by a lightning strike.

Do giraffes get struck by lightning more often than other animals?
Do giraffes get struck by lightning more often than other animals? Actually, all big, four-legged animals are more vulnerable to lightning strikes because the ground electric current has a higher chance to go through vital organs. In this image, the giraffe is subjected to step potential as the animal’s front and rear feet are along the potential gradient.

So, even an animal was not directly hit, the large distance between their legs increases the voltage (and potentially the current) going through it. This might cause serious harm and even death.

But, the most obvious danger, is, of course, giraffes are really tall, so when they are under a tree, and if the tree gets struck by lightning, there is a non-negligible chance that lighting could jump directly to their head. Or, even worse, if the animal’s head was touching the tree when the tree got struck by lightning, it gets a partial lightning current due to touch potential.

Do giraffes get struck by lightning more often than other animals?
Do giraffes get struck by lightning more often than other animals? In the figure left, the giraffe is so close to the tree. So, when the tree gets struck by lightning, there’s a possibility of the animal getting a side flash. In the figure right, the giraffe’s head is touching the tree, so it gets a partial lightning current due to touch potential.

So yes, giraffes get struck by lightning more often than most other animals

Furthermore, another danger for the giraffes is, they live in environments that have few and sparsely distributed tall trees and are topographically or geologically predisposed to attract lightning.

But, other big animals are vulnerable to lightning strikes too. Thousands of animals (not just giraffes) are injured or killed by lightning each year. And there are many documented cases. For example:

  • In 1972, Norma Jean, a circus elephant, was struck and killed by lightning in Illinois.
  • In 2003, a 6-year-old giraffe named Betsy was struck and killed by lightning at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in Florida.
  • In 2008, 52 cows are killed after lightning hits a wire fence in Uruguay.
  • In 2009, a lightning strike killed 16 bullocks which were sheltering from a storm in a field in East Lothian, Scotland.
  • In November 2010, a South African giraffe named Hamley who lived on the Glen Afric reserve in South Africa was (apparently) struck by lightning and killed.
  • In 2016, a lightning strike killed 323 reindeer in Norway.
  • In 2020, lightning killed 2 giraffes in South Africa.
  • In 2021, a lightning strike killed 18 elephants on a hilltop in Assam, India.
Do giraffes get struck by lightning more often than other animals?
Do giraffes get struck by lightning more often than other animals? Photo by Daniel Ramirez from Honolulu, USA – Giraffe!Uploaded by Jacopo Werther, CC BY 2.0, Link

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M. Özgür Nevres
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