Hunting with eagles is a traditional form of falconry for thousands of years, practiced by the Kazakh people in Bayan-Ulgii, the westernmost province of Mongolia. It’s a rite of passage for Kazakh boys in western Mongolia who learn the crafts as early as 13. Passed down through generations, the tradition has a strict set of rules and practices. The hunts happen during winter when teams of hunters chase their prey by horseback and release an eagle to make their kill. Hunting once provided furs and meat during harsh winters, but the tradition is battling a dwindling number of hunters.

Golden eagle is one of the World's fiercest, with a wingspan of 6.6 ft, razor-sharp talons and the ability to dive at the speed of an express train -- up to 190 mph.” Hunters prefer females because they are larger and regarded as more aggressive. Females weigh up to seven kilograms, which is a third heavier than males. It takes a great deal of strength to hold one of these large birds in your arm. When horses are on the move the eagles unfurl their wings for balance.

The Golden Eagle Festival has been celebrated since 1999 with the aim of promoting conservation of Golden eagle and preservation of the Kazakh’s traditional unique culture of hunting with birds.  The festival comprises various competitions, in course of competitions which the eagle must catch a piece of fox fur pulled behind a galloping horse, the entrants compete for the awards of Best Turned Out Eagle and Owner; Best Eagle at Hunting Prey and Best Eagle at Locating Its Owner from a Distance, besides traditional horse games and camel races. Prizes are awarded for speed, agility and accuracy, as well as for the best traditional Kazakh dress, and more. Dark, rocky mountainous terrain forms the backdrop to the event, which incorporate cultural exhibitions and demonstrations followed by sporting activities and competitions. 


Sent out to hunt fawns, foxes, or other small animals, the eagle dives down on them and kills them. But often it is also capable of killing young wolves when they cannot negotiate the deep snow. Sometimes the eagles hunt in pairs, just as they would in the wild. Eagles rarely fail to catch their prey, which it quickly kills, usually by breaking the neck in its powerful claws.


Training eagles takes a lot of time, (3-4 years), must be done by one person, and requires constant daily attention. When the eagle is almost an adult, the trainer shows it the hides and furs of the animals it must hunt so that it becomes used to the smell and characteristics of the prey. All of this is done with special commands. Training continues by dragging a fox fur behind a galloping horse. Not all eagles can be so trained, but those that do show intense loyalty. Although never tethered they always return after killing their prey. Skilled hunters even manage to get the bird to kill the prey while scarcely leaving a mark on its fur.

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