Kazakh Eagle Hunters,Mongolia
A couple of years ago, Navak and I had a chance to live with a family of Kazakh Eagle hunters in the Altai Region of Western Mongolia. During our stay, we have learned and documented their age-old traditions and have joined them on their mountain trips for training and hunting.
Two hundred years ago, the advance of the Russian empire into Kazakhstan sent many Kazakhs across the border into western Mongolia, where they settled in the region of Bayan Ulgii. Bayan-Ulgii province is located in the extreme west of Mongolia, only separated from Kazakhstan by a 40km strip of Russian and Chinese mountains.
Kazakh eagle hunters, known as “berkutchi” preserve a way of life far removed from much of the modern world, surviving brutal winters, living off the grid in gers (portable round tents), training eagles and hunting on horseback. During hunting season, they would saddle up together with golden eagles on their arms and spend afternoons on horseback riding through the Altai mountains looking to hunt rabbits, foxes, marmots, wolves, and other game.
Golden eagles are superior predators and rule the world of the Altai Mountains in altitude above 3500m. Once matured, each bird reaches a wingspan of up to 2.3m and weight of 7 to 8kg. When adult golden eagles spot potential prey, they keep it in focus and nothing can stay in their way. Their impressive killing skill is what fascinates Kazakh Eagle Hunters.
The Kazakh hunters have an incredibly close connection with their eagles, they are virtually family members. Traditionally, female eagles are captured from their nests while a few months old – old enough to survive away from the nest, but not yet able to fly. They are nurtured and trained by their hunter-owner, and a close relationship develops.
Throughout the summer, the eagles will be chained to a wooden stand, or sometimes to a rock, and will be fed to boost their strength. The eagle will stay with her owner for anywhere between four and 10 years when she is of breeding age. She is then released as far as possible from her ‘home’ in order to discourage her from returning.