Conservationists studying the movements of tigers in Russia’s Far East captured rare—and what are believed to be the first—images of a Golden Eagle attacking a sika deer.
The photos were taken by a camera trap set up by a team including researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in the Lazovsky State Nature Reserve. The team had been hoping to record the habits of the endangered Siberian tiger, specifically the cat’s hunting behavior. What they found on the camera was something much different than what they were expecting.
“I’ve been assessing deer causes of death in Russia for 18 years,” said Linda Kerley, the ZSL scientist who first investigated the scene, in a statement. “This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.”
Golden Eagles are powerful predators who are more than capable of carrying off foxes, coyotes, and even bear cubs. They have been known to eat deer as well, but scientists had yet to record such an attack until now. Kerley and Jonathan C. Slaght with the WCS reported their findings in a paper for the Journal of Raptor Research, which was published Monday. The team had been setting camera traps in Russia for six years during their tiger and leopard study. The majority of the images found on the camera were of small prey animals, deer, and the occasional tiger. Kerley never expected to find evidence of an eagle attack when she went to retrieve the camera.
“I saw the deer carcass first as I approached the trap on a routine check to switch out memory cards and change batteries, but something felt wrong about it,” she said. “There were no large carnivore tracks in the snow, and it looked like the deer had been running and then just stopped and died.”
Not willing to believe that the animal died suddenly and without cause, Kerley hoped to find answers in the photos.
“It was only after we got back to camp that I checked the images from the camera and pieced everything together,” she said. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
The photos, taken only seconds apart, clearly show a Golden Eagle attacking the young deer. Due to the relative proximity of the deer carcass to the camera, researchers believe the eagle did indeed kill and consume the animal.
A video slideshow of the pictures can be seen below:
Golden Eagles are widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere and highly regarded by falconers. In the past, some societies trained these eagles to hunt wolves.