(Photo:Linda Kerley, Zoological Society of London (ZSL))
In a rare scene, a camera trap in the forest of Russian Far East caught a series of three images in just seconds of a golden eagle attacking a sika deer.
While golden eagles are not known to attack deer, the photographs clearly debunk that thought.
The camera trap is part of a series set up in the Lazovskii State Nature Reserve in Primorye in the southern Russian Far East to monitor the region’s Amur tigers.
Linda Kerley from the Zoological Society of London and her colleagues were working on the project and were surprised to find the photos of the encounter during a routine equipment check.
Kerley says, “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.”
“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. I’ve been assessing deer causes of death in Russia for 18 years, it’s the first time I’ve seen anything like it,” says Kerley. “It’s rare for golden eagles to snatch up deer.”
Kerely and other ZSL researchers have been monitoring the territory for the past six years. Camera trap images are typically recordings of common prey species and occasionally a resident or transient tiger, so seeing an image of an eagle in the act of taking down a deer was unexpected.
Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Kerely’s study co-author, said golden eagles have a well-documented history of eyebrow-raising predation attempts, “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.”
The paper and images appear in the September issue of the Journal of Raptor Research. Authors include Linda Kerley of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Dr. Slaght added, “In this case I think Linda just got really lucky and was able to document a very rare, opportunistic predation event.”