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Eagle Hunting in Mongolia

Eagle HuntingThe Golden Eagle Festival is a 7 days event held annually at the beginning of October in Bayan Olgii province. It is dedicated to an ancient tradition of eagle hunting practiced by the Kazakh ethnic minority residing in Western Mongolia. The Kazakhs use three types of eagle for hunting. The most common one is the Mountain Eagle also known as the Golden Eagle.

Both, for entertainment and passion, handsome hunters in their traditional costumes and red fox fur hats gather from all over Mongolia and neighboring Kazakhstan to put on an amazing display of their skills as hunters, as tamers and trainers of eagles.

Kazakhs only hunt with female birds, as the male eagles are smaller and not as good at hunting. The eagle hunters usually catch four or five foxes in a days hunting, as well as some smaller prey, such as marmots. If they are lucky, the hunters might even score a wolf.

First, the contesters are tested how well the eagles know their masters. The birds are released one at the time from the peak of a mountain and are expected to find their owners down at the foot. Judges time how long it takes the eagle to land on its masters arm. On the final day of the festival, the eagle hunters drag fox and rabbit skins behind their horses, and the eagles are judged on how well they hunt their prey. The panel of judges would hold up cards with big red numbers painted on them to award their scores, the highest score being nine. Points were awarded for the speed of the eagles, how deftly the eagles caught their prey, and for how quickly it took the eagles to recognize their masters.

The climax of the festival is the final event in which the eagles are released from the top of the mountain to hunt a live wolf. As a rule the wolf is muzzled (so that it could not harm the spectators) and let loose in the middle of the plain. The surrounding crowd of jostling onlookers marks out a boundary to the natural arena. It is almost like being in ancient Rome at the coliseum, as people watch through their fingers and participate in the thrill of the hunt. Although it might seem slightly barbarous, it is difficult to look away. As the eagle swoop down from the mountain, the wolf, a natural hunter being hunted, runs for safety until eagles catch it and pin it to the ground until rescued by festival organizers. The event usually lasts for a couple of minutes, but it is an exciting couple of minutes scary, horrific, yet amazing at the same time.

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