Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan

The western animal rights might consider eagle hunting as an unethical practice and even protest against this. But it isn't the case with the hunters of Kyrgyzstan. They always believe in upholding their assessorial culture, which is of thousands of years. People around the globe might state that the hunters are poorly treating the eagles to hunt small preys. Well, even I thought the same before heading to the beautiful land of Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz people are a Turkic ethnic group native to Central Asia. The necessities of Kyrgyz Eagle Hunters are just a healthy & strong horse, a faithful dog and a golden eagle. Moreover, this has been the case for many centuries.

Well, the perspective is entirely different; I met two eagle hunters, also known as berkutchi, Salavat and Azamat. These brothers have changed my views on eagle hunters. They are very proud of their eagle and even raise the bird ever since it was a small chick. The eagle stays with them for about ten years, and then they release it back to the wild.

According to Salavat and Azamat, a golden eagle is considered to be most fierce when they have a wingspan of 6.6 feet, razor-sharp claws and even the ability to dive at the speed of 90 miles per hour. On the other hand, the Kyrgyz train the eagles in a manner that they can hunt anything between owl or marmot. Whereas, I was astonished to know that these incredible eagles can even pursue fox, wolf and gazelle as well.

It was an intriguing matter for me to know that the bigger the prey is, the more is the prestige — however, the sole reason behind choosing a female eagle over male eagles is that the female eagles are more aggressive than males.

Most eagles are caught very young and trapped in a cage. There is a perch in the cage that always sways as the eagle hunter sings. The sound and rhythm of the hunter later help the eagle to return to his owner when they release it to the wild.

Brothers Salavat and Azamat

The eagle is bounded by leather strapping when during the training secessions so that whenever she tries to fly away, she flips upside down. After repeated attempts, she finally becomes exhausted and gradually learns to return to her owner. Over a long period of training sessions, the eagle ultimately distinguishes the voice of her owner and then obeys the command sincerely. It takes around 3 to 4 years to train an eagle thoroughly and mostly done by a single person.

Finally, when the eagle is almost an adult, they are offered the furs of different animals that they must hunt so that they become acquainted with the smell and characteristics of the prey. Different eagle hunters use various techniques to teach hunting. One of the conventional methods is that they drag a fox fur behind a galloping horse. Once an eagle is old enough and highly skilled, then the hunter and his horse work together along with their eagle to catch animals like foxes and hares. The eagle and the hunter heads towards the destination on horseback. Mainly, they head towards mountain hills to catch prey. After an eagle catches prey, is rewarded with a piece of meat. At the end of hunting the eagle loves to ride on the arms of the Kyrgyz hunter and head back to the village.

Eagles can leave up to thirty to forty years, but the hunters keep the eagle only for ten years and then leave her in the wild. While the departure sometimes can be emotional, sometimes the hunter has to hide so that the eagle does not follow the hunter back to home.

Catching its prey

The Golden Eagle in action

I consider myself very lucky that on my journey to Kyrgyzstan, I have found Salavat and Azamat, who is the fourth generation of the great eagle hunter Jiydebay. They have made my journey accomplished and granted me a different meaning of life.

 

I have understood that encaging is not always about suppressing the right of a creature. Yes, it's true the Eagles are in captivity and trained to hunt, I have seen the love and the respect that the eagle receives during my time in the village. The brothers are kind and passionate. They are determined to preserve an age-old tradition and pass it on to the next generation before it despairs from the region. Every journey is a new experience, and every experience teaches a new lesson of a lifetime.

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Artist | Photographer | Traveller

Viran de Silva