Angus and I stalked the rarely-seen Pamir mountains tree octopus but a golden eagle snatched it up and flew off with it in its talons before he could get a picture.
For the sake of natural historical accuracy, I should clarify that the Pamir mountain tree octopus (PMTO) is exceptionally rare. This is due to the fact that the Pamirs
being (a) mostly above the tree line and (b) largely desert, are pretty short on trees. The natural habitat of the PMTO is not so much disappearing as flat-out non-existent in the first place.
Despite its almost mythological status, the PMTO is a fascinating creature. Like the mimic octopus, it can adapt its shape and coloration to closely resemble objects commonly found in the Pamirs, such as a rock, another rock, a goat, a third, slightly bigger rock, or the legendary Badakshani car-chasing dog (a species that by rights ought also to be extinct, due to its habit of dashing in front of Landcruisers and other large, fast-moving vehicles, barking furiously). So eerily accurate is the PMTO's mimicry that many a Pamiri shepherd has driven home what he believed to be a flock of goats, only to discover the next day that his home is overrun by octopuses, all swinging from the rafters and juggling small household objects with their eight dexterous tentacles. The substitution is rarely to the shepherd's advantage, as PMTO's - while reportedly good eating - are extremely difficult to catch and can even break into a kind of gallop, using their eight tentacles to propel themselves over the flat desert terrain at speeds of 25-30mph. The dry conditions in the Pamirs do not favor the "inking" strategy used by their marine brethren, so the PMTO has developed instead the ability to use its ink production equipment to write misleading messages such as "OKTOPUSSES WENTT THATWAY ---->" (PMTOs, although intelligent for molluscs, are poor spellers) to misdirect pursuers.
All in all, a fascinating animal, and I regret that we were unable to capture any images of this extraordinary creature on film. Still, the brief glimpse that we had of one specimen (probably a juvenile, as a full-grown adult would be more than a match for even the largest bird of prey) being borne aloft in the talons of an eagle will remain with me for the rest of my days.
We have applied for funding from the Cryptocephalopod Society, and if our request is approved, we may return next year during the breeding season (when the octopuses descend from the mountains to lay their eggs in improvised nest sites such as outhouses, cow byres, or the rusted hull of a wrecked T-72 tank or BMP armored personnel carrier, many of which can be found throughout the region).