Western Mongolia is dominated by the Altai Mountains physically and culturally. The Altai have functioned for thousands of years as a homeland for the nomadic cultures of Eurasia including the Kazakhs – Mongolia’s largest ethnic minority group representing 3-4% of Mongolia’s population (Mongolia’s entire population is just over 3.2 million people). Hunting with eagles (‘berkutchi’) is a form of falconry traditionally found throughout the Eurasian steppe. It is still practised by a percentage of the Kazakhs of western Mongolia and in 2011 UNESCO added Kazakh eagle hunting to the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as an example of living human heritage.
‘The Kazakhs of Bayan-Olgii are somewhat isolated – torn between their nation-state of Kazakhstan, within which they would not be able to live a traditional nomadic, pastoralist lifestyle, and the country of Mongolia, a state that is populated by ethnic Mongols, who are primarily Buddhist and have an entirely different linguistic, historical and cultural tradition. … proudly referred to themselves as “Mongolian Kazakhs” and felt that they would neither fit in, nor desire to live in, Kazakhstan or in the other aimags of Mongolia.’ Lauren McGough
But to experience real Kazakh eagle hunting you need to visit in the Mongolian winter.
We work with the families directly throughout the year and have formed long-term local community partnerships with them. Our experiences are put together in a way which benefits and supports each family, rather than disrupting their lives. We don’t ask them to change their daily schedule or to put on an ‘act’. We do not arrange contrived experiences where live prey is pre-captured, held and then released on purpose for our guests to be able to photograph the experience. We will never arrange any artificial experiences as they damage the culture, the way of life or wildlife itself.
For those concerned about the welfare of the eagles, the Kazakh eagle hunters have a respectful yet practical approach to their eagles – they have a close connection with their eagles – they are virtually family members although it is sometimes hard for outsiders to recognise this. The eagles are released back into the wild after about ten seasons so that they can breed. Once released, the birds are observed to make sure they successfully reintegrate back into the wild.
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes Mongolia