Hunting with eagles

Eagle hunting is a traditional type of falconry that was practised in the Eurasian steppe. Today, several forms of this art still exist in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, in Xinjiang in China, and in the province of Bayan Olgii, in Mongolia, where many Kazakhs live. Although Turks are renowned for hunting with eagles, they also train wood pigeons, peregrine falcons and saker falcons.

The Kazakhs who live in the province of Bayan Olgii keep up the ancestral art of eagle hunting. Nowadays, we can count 250 falconers (or "berkutchis") in the whole province. Here, the form of hunting practised is atypical and unique in the world, since it's held exclusively on horseback, with the help of a golden eagle. Preys are mainly foxes, but eagles sometimes catch hares or, more rarely, small wolves. Several eagles can hunt one single prey, so that they can catch bigger animals, such as ibex or wolves. The hunter's moon stretches from the beginning of October to the end of March, because it's easier to see the foxes' coat on the snow.

During your stay with a falconer, you will follow him horse riding in the neighbouring mountains. We almost exclusively walk our horse, so beginners can also take part in the game hunting. Once in the mountains, the falconer removes the mask from the eagle, and the eagle scans the horizon. Its panoramic view is eight times intenser than ours. If the eagle sees a prey, it starts to shout to be released by its master. Then, it swoops down on the prey and tries to catch it. If it manages to, the falconer quickly dismounts to join the eagle as fast as possible. He must avoid the eagle damaging the skin of the prey, or the injured prey injuring the eagle in its turn.

Those who don't like hunting needn't worry. This practice is very noble, complex, few money-making, guzzler of time and reserved for those who had a long preliminary training. Moreover, the eagle remains a wild animal, it can suddenly decide to disappear in the sky and to leave its master.

Eaglets are caught in the nestle, when they're not able to fly, or they're trapped a bit later with a net. Falconers prefer females because they're bigger and more powerful then males. They can weigh up to 7 kilograms (15,43 pounds) and have more than 2 metres (6,56 feet) of wingspan. First, the falconer starves the eagle for several days, then he can start the training : equilibrium, for the eagle to follow the movements of the horse while it's perched on its master's arm, and hunting strictly speaking, training with a lure called shirga.

The eagle will hunt with its master until it's 8 or 10 years old. Then it will be delivered and will wildly live again 20 years and find a partner for reproduction.