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Sunday, May 12, 2002

Mongolian Nomads Who Use Eagles to Hunt
The ancient Kazak traditon of hunting with the Golden Eagle has spread across the globe
in the form of Falconry. The Crusaders brought it back from the Arabs, who learned it from the Turks. The Japanese learned from the Koreans, who learned from the Chinese, who had learned from tribes "north of the waste" or the Kazaks up in the Altai Mountains. In the high valleys of the Altai, where present-day Siberia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan come together, herders started hunting with eagles about 6,000 years ago.

In the permanently snow-capped Altai Mountains of far Western Mongolia lies the province of Bayan-Olgii, the home of the nomadic Kazaks. During the winter months, when animal's coats are at their finest, tribesman of Bayan Olgii still practice the ancient art of hunting using Golden Eagles. Female Golden Eagles. The most difficult animals for the eagles to kill are wolves. Only eagles caught in the high mountains are considered strong and fierce enough to break a wolf'back. Eagles caught in the lower steppes would most likely be killed by the wolf. Only female eagles are used.

Dressed in traditional deels and scarlet hats these hunters carry the Eagles on horseback. The eagle perches on a gloved arm supported by a wooden V-shaped yoke pressed against the saddle. In their ancestral way Kazakhs follow tracks of rabbits, fox and wolf in the snow then wait on a high perch on the mountain side where they can scan the plain below for prey. Once the eagle spots a fox or hare it is released and glides down the hill. Golden Eagles kill their prey with a crushing grip and needle sharp talons. The tradition is passed down from father to son and is all but lost in other parts of the world.

For the rest of Mongolian, going to Uglii is like traveling to a different country. The primary language is Kazack, not Mongolian, the principle religion is Muslim not Hindu. Even the dress and facial features of the people will be different.

After the Communist revolution in 1921, the Kazakhs suffered further under Choibalson purges. The foriegners policies drove the Kazak lifestyle underground. Although democracy was achieved in the late 1990's, modernization and globalism continue to strain the survival survival of Kazak traditions. Recent severe weather changes have been decimating Mongolia livestock, further causing migration to the modern cities and changes in lifestyle. There is concern is that the youth are losing interest in traditions such as Eagle Hunting.

Concerted efforts to reinvigorate this traditional form of hunting in Bayan Olgii and to share it with the wider world are being introduced. In 2000 the first Eagler's Naadam, a festival and competition, was organized with a small but successful turnout of 76 eaglers. In 2001 over 150 eaglers participated. Many newcomers are young men interested by the competitive nature of the festival. Several boys attend the Naadam now, looking for an apprenticeship. An Eagle Hunters Association was started to further promote the tradition.
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