According to a news release from the Wildlife Conservation Society, a wildlife camera trap designed to take photos of endangered Siberian tigers in the Russian Far East captured extremely rare images of a golden eagle attacking a young sika deer.
The three stills (like the one depicted above) only capture a two-second period during the attack, but reveal a mature golden eagle grasping the deer's back. Researchers are confident that the eagle's attack was a success, as the deer's carcass was discovered several weeks later, just a short distance away from the wildlife camera trap.
"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 lead author Linda Kerley of the Zoological Society of London, who is responsible for operating the camera trap project. "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."
According to co-author Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society, golden eagles have a long rap sheet when it comes to unusual attacks on other animals.
"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," Slaght noted.
Zoological Society of London researchers have been turning to camera traps for the past several years to keep track of endangered Siberian tigers in the southern Russian Far East. Typically, the camera traps document common predator-prey attacks and other details crucial to tiger research in the region.
According to the researchers, golden eagles do not normally prey on deer, and they emphasize that there are no signs that these rare attacks have any effect on deer numbers.
"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 posited.
According to Slaght, capturing the photos was simply a case of having the camera traps set up at the right place and the right time.
A paper discussing the attack was published in the Journal of Raptor Research.