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Norwegian Eagles Are Taking Out Full-Grown Reindeer

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Flickr user Rocky via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-2.0

Here’s a reindeer story you may not want to tell the kids: Golden eagles have been spotted attacking full-grown reindeer in Norway.

The golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is a pretty tough bird. With a wingspan up to 7.5 feet and a diving speed of more than 150 miles per hour, A. chrysaetos is generally pretty good at getting what it wants. That usually means rabbits, hares, birds, and squirrels. But when the pickings are slim, golden eagles will get a little more ambitious, going after sheep, saiga antelope, and even wolves. Researchers even saw one brazen bird carrying off a bear cub.

So the idea that these birds are preying on reindeer is not quite as ridiculous as it sounds. It was a fact well known by the reindeer-herding Sami people of Finland, who had complained of the attacks for years. But scientists, being scientists, were still having a hard time believing it in the absence of evidence.

Then in 2009, researcher Harri Norberg of the Finnish Wildlife Agency took a closer look at the carcasses of reindeer calves. The forensic evidence showed that the majority of them had indeed fallen prey to golden eagles. Not too long after, a BBC film crew captured a handful of attacks on camera. The reality was not pretty.

An attacking eagle drops out of the sky above its prey, and then drives its talons into the reindeer’s body, puncturing large blood vessels.

"They are not killing anything instantly, so they have to ride like a rodeo cowboy on the back of the calf," film producer Ted Oakes told the BBC. After that, it’s just a matter of waiting for the reindeer to bleed out.

Norberg and Oakes suspected that the reindeer calves were not the eagles’ only victims, but, once again, they had no proof. 

Six years later, a Norwegian naturalist has seen it for himself. Olav Strand of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research told New Scientist that he has seen golden eagles kill adult reindeer weighing more than 130 pounds.

Strand believes the attacks are an indirect consequence of human activity. Harsher winters—a result of climate change—are making small prey like hares harder to come by. At the same time, human settlements are shrinking available reindeer territory, driving the animals into a smaller area, where they can be more easily picked off. "It’s possible to expect some kind of interaction between the level of fragmentation and the coming climate change," he told New Scientist. "Through history, the only defense reindeers have had to climate and predators has been to move."

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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