A surprise death match between an eagle and a deer was caught on a camera intended to record images of Russia's endangered Siberian tigers.
The three images, which appear in the Journal of Raptor Research, shows a golden eagle clinging to a sika deer’s back over a two-second period. Researchers found the deer’s carcass two weeks later lying near the camera trap, a setup with a motion sensor that triggers the shutter.
"I saw the deer carcass as I approached the trap on a routine check to switch out memory cards and change batteries, but something felt wrong about it. There were no large carnivore tracks in the snow, and it looked like the deer had been running and then just stopped and died," lead author Dr. Linda Kerley of the Zoological Society of London, who runs the research-camera project, said in a statement. "It was only after we got back to camp that I checked the images from the camera and pieced everything together. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.”
The camera, which was set up to snap photos of Amur tigers in the Lazovskii State Nature Reserve in Primorye in the Russian Far East, rarely captures anything as rare as a golden eagle attack on an unsuspecting deer.
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Not only that, scientists say golden eagles rarely attack deer. “I’ve been assessing deer causes of death in Russia for 18 years -- this is the first time I’ve seen anything like this,” Kerley said.
Adult eagles, which can weigh up to 15 pounds and dive at speeds of more than 150 miles per hour, use their sharp talons to kill rabbits, marmots and squirrels.
“The scientific literature is full of references to golden eagle attacks on different animals from around the world, from things as small as rabbits -- their regular prey -- to coyote and deer, and even one record in 2004 of an eagle taking a brown bear cub,” Dr. Jonathan Slaght of Wildlife Conservation Society said.