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HUNTING WITH EAGLES IN MONGOLIA
Campbel Bridge
Mon, 12 Sep 2022

In the treeless snow-covered mountain wilderness of western Mongolia. I watch three men on horseback slowly riding towards me. Each man is dressed in long flowing dark robes, full-length leather riding boots and a fox-fur hat with its feathery plumes protruding from the top. Their left arm is wrapped around the reins of the horse.  On each man’s right arm is a bulky leather elbow length glove.  On the each right arm a huge golden eagle weighing with a wingspan exceeding 2 metres, sits quietly.

This is the land of the Kazakh people in the heart of Central Asia.  The very remoteness of this region, within a few kilometres of the borders of Russia, Kazakhstan, and China has enabled these nomadic people to keep many of their wonderful traditions and culture intact.    



Even in the 21st century these horsemen still use wild golden eagles captured while young to hunt for deer, foxes, wolves, marmots, and other prey as they have for many centuries. Today there are still several hundred such hunters in western Mongolia.
 
Every October at Bayan-Oglii, the provincial capital of the westernmost province of Mongolia, the eagle hunters stage a dazzling display of their hunting skills at the annual eagle hunting festival.  While Kazakh and Mongolian music, crafts, food, and traditional Mongolian and Central Asian sports and races feature at the festival, the centrepiece is a contest hunting skills by horsemen with eagles.



The festival begins with a parade of the hunters, their horses, and eagles. The first contest involves the eagles being tested for hunting skills. The eagles swoop down from atop a cliff toward their handlers who ride away. Talons outstretched, they attempt to land upon the galloping horseman’s outstretched arm. In another competition, a lure of a fox skin or a dead rabbit is dragged behind a galloping horse. The eagle flies from its mountaintop lair and pounces on the prey.  The four judges award the highest scores to the fastest and most precise performances.

NEXT : Hunting With Eagles in Mongolia-2

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