Birds of Prey
Hunting with Golden Eagles is an ancient tradition in the Kyrgyz nomad culture, but one that is slowly dying out.
The art, sport, and livelihood of eagle hunting has existed in Kyrgyzstan for hundreds of years. Generation after generation of munushkor, eagle hunters, have kept the tradition alive since the 12th century, when hunting with eagles arrived with Mongols during their conquest of the territory.
The training process is intensive and hazardous, but thoroughly completed results in a lifelong relationship between the bird of prey and its owner. It begins with capturing a young eagle chick from its nest. Over the next 3 to 4 years, the eagle becomes accustomed to the voice of its new master, learns to eat from his hand, and learns to chase a fur hide as it is dragged behind a galloping horse.
The birds are majestic, but dangerous. They become a highly precise and skilled hunter as they develop, and historically were a critical element of the nomad lifestyle. Through the winter, families relied on the rabbits, foxes, badgers, and other small animals that the eagles would bring back to the hunter. The bond between eagle and hunter requires a lifetime of commitment. as many eagles live 40 years or longer.
The practice of hunting with eagles is known as berkutchi, and is widely practiced by nomad groups in neighboring Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. Usually a male-dominated arena, a recent film, The Eagle Huntress, documented the first example of a female participating in an annual eagle competition that takes place in Mongolia each year.
Today, eagle hunting in Kyrgyzstan is primarily maintained for the tourist audience, fascinated in learning more about the training and eager to see the eagle’s skill on display. The town of Bokonbaevo, on the south shore of Lake Issyk-kul, is home to several munushkor, and tour guides or tour companies can easily arrange for demonstrations for those that are interested to meet these birds of prey, and their owners, in person.
-by Ruby Mitchell, Online Content Editor @ White Leopard Travel Co.
Competitors from Turkey, Korea, Japan, and all-across Central Asia take part in the archery challenges. Among the rules, all bows must be traditional and made from natural elements.
A lesser known but captivating event is the competition of hunting dogs. Primarily, the dogs are judged on their agility, and the speed with which they cover a distance of 350m while chasing the dummy of a hare or fox.
Central to the nomad tradition is the dependence on horses for much of their livelihood. Horses are therefore a focal point during the games, with multiple racing events, performances, and polo-like games attracting large crowds.
Life in the Golden Eagle Village
The practice of eagle hunting is an ancient an integral part of the nomadic Kyrgyz lifestyle, but with the migration of youth toward cities, the tradition is on the verge of extinction throughout much of Central Asia.
Just on the outskirts of Bokonbaeva, a renown eagle hunter has set up a new show space. His eagle was tethered in an enclave by the cliff, and in the center of a group of yurts, a large boulder boasted an image of his long-standing trade and passion. Inside the yurts were a fantastic collection of artifacts, comprising a mini-museum on the nomadic history of Kyrgyzstan.
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