The world famous eagle hunters are Kazakh people living in the western part of Mongolia. Even though they are not ethnically Mongolian, the eagle hunters have been living in the Mongolian side of Altai Mountains for centuries and they are inseparable part of Mongolia. Mostly living in the western part of the country, as of 2017, there are 114,506 Kazakh people in Mongolia and that makes up around 4% of the population. Regionally speaking, Kazakh people makes up over 25% of the five western province’s population and 93% of the Bayan-Ulgii province’s population of over 93,000 people. From that 86,490 people there are about only 200-250 eagle hunters that actively hunt today. In 2002, an eagle hunters’ community was formed with initial 380 members but the numbers declined since then. However after a successful documentary about a young girl named Aisholpan learning to hunt with eagles called “The Eagle Huntress” premiered in 2016, there has been small resurgence of the age-old practice of eagle hunting.
The hunters usually choose a female golden eagle as their companion and prefer to capture “teenage” ones that have an ability to fly and catch preys on their own rather than eaglets that are yet to learn how to fly. Although the life expectancy of the golden eagles is 30-50 years, most of the trained eagles get released after 5-6 years in order to keep the population growth going. Golden eagle’s natural diet includes wide variety of preys but the hunters primarily aim for red foxes, corsac foxes and hares.
The hunters do not hunt all around the year, preferring to hunt only during autumn months. Especially in October, a big eagle hunting festival called “Golden Eagle” takes place in Bayan-Ulgii province. However there is a festival that takes place in spring near Ulaanbaatar in order to provide a chance for tourists to see the famous eagle hunters in all of their glory. Now, even if you are visiting Mongolia during winter or summer months you can still experience the lifestyles of an eagle hunter by spending a day with a Kazakh family in Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. So be sure to make that arrangement to meet an Eagle Hunter, when you are visiting the Western Parts of Mongolia.
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