Hanging With Eaglehunters in Western Mongolia
“EAGLES HAVE BEEN KNOWN to pick off small children when hungry, or just plain annoyed.”
Like most locals, my guide Aynabek is fluent in Mongolian, Kazakh, and English (he can also add Russian and French to the mix). “The Kazakhs have a saying — ‘There are three things a man must have: A fast horse, a hound, and a golden eagle.'”
We are in Bayan Ulgii — Mongolia’s westernmost province — in search of the legendary Eaglehunters. Cousins to the ancient nomadic Mongol tribes, today’s modern-day descendants practice a tradition that has been passed down from father to son for over 6,000 years. Wide, treeless river plains surrounded by craggy peaks make ideal hunting conditions for the top predator here; eagles will take on a wolf without blinking, and have even been known to kill snow leopards.
Chicks are taken from the nest very young, then brought home to be reared in the house with the family, their eyes kept hooded until the bond between man and bird has formed. The Eaglehunter we visited at the end of the season introduced us to his two beautiful girls in almost-peak condition, while fox pelts and a couple wolf carcasses lay drying in the hasha (family compound) courtyard all around us.
For more, check out this eagle hunting video, and pick up Stephen Bodio’s Eagle Dreams for a vivid (and very thorough) account of this culture.
Thanks to Jan Schultz and Aynabek Havduali for providing the amazing photography.