One of the most spectacular events in Mongolia during autumn, the Golden Eagle Festival is celebrated in Bayan Ulgii province, in the far west of Mongolia.
The province of Bayan Ulgii is situated in the breathtaking scenery of the Altai mountain range, where four Asian countries meet. The Eagle Festival is a tournament of falconers from the region, who hunt with trained eagles. Once a year they come together from their home villages to measure their skills. There are about 380 falconers organized in an association. Eagles – the “feathered dinosaurs of the primeval age” as a National geographer photographer David Edwards puts it-are a symbol and lifestyle for the Kazakh people living in the wilds of far western Mongolia.
Kazakhs, Mongolia’s largest ethnic minority, are known for the enchanting music of the dombra lute, and their unique cultural traditions, such as hunting with a golden eagle. Eagle hunters capture the wild eagles as chicks, which they raise themselves, feeding the growing birds from their own hand to form a stronger bond. Young eagles are trained to hunt foxes and rabbits. To hunt, the Kazakh eagle hunter- falconer his charge’s talons always clutching his arm-rides his horse to the top of the mountain.
They release his eagle, which soars into the sky to survey the earth in every direction for prey. As soon as it spots the prey, the eagle swoops in to for the kill, while the eagle hunter rides after it. A tamed eagle can live up to 32 years in captivity, but as a rule, the birds are set free again after a few years of hunting. A full-grown golden eagle has a wingspan of about two meters and weight of between six and twelve pounds.