Alibek sat motionless on horseback in the valley, waiting for the familiar shrill.
Suddenly a golden eagle rose from a faraway-mountain, and dived toward him with a sharp howl. Alibek answered back with a resounding bird-shrill. In no time, the eagle landed, grabbing the meat in his hand. That helped win both the master and the bird the first round of Kazakh Eagle festival in October last year.
In his fur coat with many tricky folds and fuzzy patterns, he looked like a warrior from a picture book.
This 40-year-old eagle hunter was among hundreds of Kazakhs that descend the mountains with eagles in their hands.
Suddenly Bayan-Olgii, a remote region in western Mongolia throbs with festivity.
The hunters wear traditional costumes, made from fur of marmot, fox or wolf skins, caught by their eagles. The more extravagant the coat the more respected the hunter is.
The specially trained birds show off their mettle and skill in various competitions including hunting. The eagles, like sharply tuned weapon, would fly off from the hands of their masters. Seconds later, all you will see is them flying up with a bleeding fox or hare between their claws.
However, winning eagle has to prove its hunting skills with accuracy, speed and agility. The traditional Kazakh dress the trainer wears to the festivity also earns some critical points. Along with the bird, its master is also judged, thus winning brings great prestige to the trainer as well.
The festival also sees awards handed out for Best Turned Out Eagle And Owner, Best Eagle At Hunting Prey and Best Eagle At Locating Its Owner From A Distance, Mail Online says.
The Kazakhs, the major native tribe, are Turkic people whose identity is tied to medieval period.
The area they inhabit forms part of Altai mountain range. This huge ridge cuts across Russia, China, Mangolia and Kazakhstan. The name “ Altai” or Altay means “ Gold Mountain” in Mongolian. Its vast valleys, rocky and dry, offers little support to the people live there.
Perhaps Kazakhs are the only surviving tribe today to hunt with golden eagles. There are still some 400 practising falconers on this lofty mountain range.
Said to have been started by Khitans from Manchuria in Northern China c940AD, the tradition now attracts people around the world.
Golden eagles are part of people’s lives here. These huge predatory birds perch on their hands, as they roam the ragged terrain.
The bond between Kazakhs and eagles are like none you have ever seen. With screeches and cries, both birds and trainers communicate and trainers guide the birds in hunting.
Caught from the wild, young female golden eagles aren’t given any food for several days. Hungry and exhausted, the birds eventually start to accept food from humans. Once the trust between them is developed, birds are trained.
A trained bird will serve its master for six to eight years taking part in hunting and competitions. After that, the female eagle is released back into the wild for breeding. It seems the eagles have no better nests than the homes of their masters, because Kazakhs value their birds most.
Kazakh’s bond with golden eagle is perhaps the last of the few ‘give-and-take relations’ between man and the beast.