The golden eagles that live in the high Altai mountains, in far-western Mongolia, build their nests in the crags of the area’s rugged peaks—there aren’t many trees. Hunters belonging to traditional nomadic clans from the country’s Khazakh minority climb up to these crevices to capture the birds at around four years old, which is old enough to know how to hunt but young enough to be pliable to human company and training.
The eagles are domesticated, fed by hand, and will live with the hunters’ families for years. When the Australian-born photographer Palani Mohan began travelling to the Altais to document the traditions of these eagle-hunters, known as burkitshi, many of the men he met talked about loving the eagles like their own children. In an introduction to a new collection of his photos, Mohan writes, “It is the bond between hunter and eagle that fascinated me.”
To hunt, the men take their eagles high into the mountains so that they can scan the valleys below for foxes and other animals, which the eagles fly down to catch. (Only female birds are used, because they’re larger—with an eight-foot wingspan—and fiercer hunters.) The photos capture this harsh trek: against the rugged, rocky landscape, the men’s weathered skin peeks through their fur coats and hats; the birds look dinosaur-like, with wild eyes, but sit calm and alert on the hunters’ arms.
In one photo, a hunter cradles his eagle gently, its talons curled toward the sky. “They love to be carried in such a way,” the hunter told Mohan. “It makes them feel loved and relaxes them, just like a baby.” In another, a hooded eagle looks a little bewildered in a swaddle made of leather and carpet, which keeps the birds warm during winter hunts, when temperatures can drop to forty below.
Credit New Yorker
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