Hunting with Eagles in Mongolia
Eagle falconry in Mongolia
At the crossroads of China, Russia, and Kazakhstan, the rugged Altai Mountain region in the far west of Mongolia continues to live according to age-old traditions. One of these timeless customs is a cornerstone of the regional identity: hunting with eagles.
An ancestral art This unusual method of hunting is specific to the Kazakhs and practiced exclusively on horseback with the aid of a golden eagle. Within the landscape of the towering Altai Mountains, the art form perpetuates centuries of history. In fact, the Mongolian Kazakhs, who first settled in this arid terrain at the end of the 12th century, have mastered the art of training golden eagles, the largest species of eagle in the Northern Hemisphere, which they call burkit. The hunters tend to favor female eaglets for the task, capitalizing on their more aggressive nature and broader wingspan – reaching up to 2.20 meters. After learning to depend entirely on their master for nourishment through a painstaking training process, the birds of prey, who would return to a feral state if they were to feed themselves, possess a visual acuity that is eight times keener than that of humans, while they can also dive on their prey from mountain peaks at speeds over 160 km/hour. That means hunters must be experienced and fast riders to collect the precious fur of the prey – such as the silver fox – before it is damaged or destroyed. In this way, the golden eagle has continued to stand as a symbol of strength and courage throughout the centuries. And it is this same energy that these equestrians at the other end of the planet proudly share with this legendary bird.
TExt by Nathalie MArchal. PHOTOGRAPH by Getty