A camera trap set out for endangered Siberian (Amur) tigers in the Russian Far East photographed something far more rare: a golden eagle capturing a young sika deer. Credit: Linda Kerley, Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
In an unexpected twist of fate, scientists attempting to study Siberian tigers in eastern Russia have instead documented the first killing of a sika deer by a golden eagle.
A camera trap in the far eastern region of Russia captured three images over a two second period showing a golden eagle snatching a young sika deer with its talons. The very same deer carcass was found close to the camera trap a few weeks later and initially had scientists confused.
"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. There were no large carnivore tracks in the snow, and it looked like the deer had been running and then just stopped and died," said Linda Kerley from the Zoological Society of London.
"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."
Kerley along with Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society published a study based on their findings titled "First Documented Predation of Sika Deer (Cervus nippon) by Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) in Russian Far East" in the Journal of Raptor Research.
Golden eagles are large brown predatory birds that are the most widely spread species of eagle. They often nest in high places and usually prey on animals such as rabbit or hare. Sometimes, however, their palates will grow.
"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," said Slaght.
"In this case I think Linda just got really lucky and was able to document a very rare, opportunistic predation event."