Busted: Poaching Camera in Siberia Catches Golden Eagle Taking Down Deer
The deer carcass lay in the snow, but Linda Kerley of the Zoological Society of London, checking cameras set up to catch tiger poachers in the remote Russian wilderness, sensed something amiss.
"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,” Kerley said in a statement from the Wildlife Conservation Society. “There were no large carnivore tracks in the snow, and it looked like the deer had been running and then just stopped and died."
A mystery indeed. The absence of footprints was explained soon after, but the truth was even more astonishing, she said.
"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,” she said.
Caught on camera: a golden eagle taking down a young sika deer. The gripping triptych shows the eagle landing squarely upon the animal’s back, then bringing it to the ground, then standing over its prey with wings spread wide.
It took just a couple of seconds for this drama to play out, but the reaction has been ongoing since the paper was published in the September issue of the Journal of Raptor Research earlier this month. The sight is rare indeed, at least to human eyes.
"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.
The cameras are set up to catch poachers of Siberian (Amur) tigers in eastern Russia, the Wildlife Conservation Society said in its media release. The society’s own Jonathan Slaght, who co-wrote the paper, said golden eagles are known to go after all kinds of 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,” he said in the statement. “In this case I think Linda just got really lucky and was able to document a very rare, opportunistic predation event.”