For centuries, hunting with golden eagles has been a tradition of the nomadic Kyrgyz people. The earliest mention of hunting with these birds of prey in Central Asia dates back to the Mongol conquest during the 12th century. This practice was essential for the nomadic Kyrgyz people to obtain fur and food in preparation for winter.
The eagle hunters (berkutchi) who practice this are highly skilled in taming these raptors. Forging a close bond with a golden eagle is of utmost importance to be an effective hunter. The eagles are plucked from their nests as fledglings and the training process to prepare them for hunting takes around three to four years. It is necessary that a single person undertake the training to fully develop the bond between the eagle and the hunter.
Meet Kaderdin and his five-year old golden eagle, Tuygun. We met them while we were in Bokonbaevo in Southern Issyk Kul. We had the had the privilege to witness how Tuygun hunts. With Kaderdin’s instructions, one quick majestic blink-and-you’ll-miss-it swoop, Tuygun was able to nab his ‘prey.’
Tuygun and Kaderdin
Berkut (golden eagle) and berkutchi (eagle hunter)
A leather hood - tomogo - is used to cover the eyes of the eagle to calm him.
Berkutchi wears a glove made from rawhide leather to protect his arm from the sharp talons of the eagle.
Eagle eyes. (Matt Horspool)
A berkutchi needs to form a strong bond with his eagle
Preparing for the hunt
Off to hunt
The berkut will not kill or feed on the prey until his master comes to him.
Calming down the berkut
The majestic golden eagle
The perfect pair
Passing on the tradition to his young son
The eagle hunter and his family
After the hunt
It is unfortunate that this practice is slowly dying in the region but a number of eagle hunters are still eagerly working to ensure this tradition is passed to the next generations.