LONDON (AP) – The eagle, red-handed.
Remote cameras intended to monitor Siberian tigers in Russia instead caught a golden eagle's fatal attack on a deer, snapping three photos as the massive bird dug its talons into the distressed animal's back.
London's Zoological Society, which distributed the pictures to journalists, said the sequence showed a rare but not unheard of attack by a golden eagle. The society's Linda Kerley said she first realized something was up when she approached the wildlife-monitoring device – also called a camera trap – and found a mangled deer carcass nearby.
"Something felt wrong about it," she said in a statement accompanying the photographs. "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," she said. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing."
Golden eagles are large birds. Their wingspan tops 6½ feet and, while they typically eat small birds, mammals, or snakes, they've been known to target larger animals.
It's rare for a camera to catch such an attack in progress, and the photos have been an online sensation.
The zoological society said the photos were shot in the Lazovsky State Nature Reserve in the Primorye region of Russia's Far East on Dec. 8, 2011. The pictures were released only after the publication of a scholarly article by Kerley and co-author Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society in the Ohio-based Journal of Raptor Research earlier this month.