Golden eagle attacks deer in rare camera trap footage

A ZSL conservation program has captured the amazing moment when a Golden Eagle attacks a Sika Deer.  

Golden eagles sometimes attack and kill deer, and ZSL's amur tiger conservation project has the pictures to prove it.

Researchers have been using camera traps to monitor Amur (or Siberian) tigers in the Lazovskii State Nature Reserve in Primorye, in the southern Russian Far East, for about five years. Usually, pictures from these traps record common animal species walking by—usually sika deer—and every once in a while they’ll snap a shot of a resident or transient tiger. So the researchers were stunned to check the camera trap and find photographs of something radically different.

"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 Dr. Linda Kerley of the Zoological Society of London, who leads 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.”

Co-author Dr. Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society noted that golden eagles have a long 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. The most startling to me was a record from Norway in 2004, when a golden eagle swooped down and carried off a small (about 3 kg) brown bear cub trailing after its mother. Everybody knows not to mess with a brown bear sow with cubs, but that particular eagle was unfazed.”

The scientists emphasise that golden eagles do not regularly attack deer, and there is no evidence that such attacks have any impact on deer populations. Dr. Kerley said, “I’ve been assessing deer causes of death in Russia for 18 years—this is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.” Dr. Slaght added, “In this case I think Linda just got really lucky and was able to document a very rare, opportunistic predation event.”

Find out more about ZSL's camera trapping work

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