Honorable Mention TOKYO-2017 Editorial / Photo Essay

Endangered Culture: Eagle Hunters of Mongolia

  • Photographer
    Lai Leng Lam

Eagle hunting has been practiced by the Kazakhs for centuries. Golden eagles are primarily used for hunting foxes during the winter months. A good number of Kazakhs fled Kazakhstan during the communist era and settled in Bayan-Ölgii Province around the Altai Mountains, western part of Mongolia. These eagle hunters are nomads, living in ger camps built far away from the center of a settlement. Eagle hunting skills are traditionally passed down from father to son, a very gender-dominated practice. With the diminishing of this culture, we see a change in the centuries old tradition. At present, with the shift towards gender equality, we are seeing female eagle hunters in the making. This project documents the life of two related families, living in the Altai Mountains, brothers Asker and Huanthan. Both brothers are now training Aigerim, the 12-years old daughter of Asker, who is like any other playful 12-years old. Aigerim is an excellent horse rider and has been training her eagle for a year now. With a small body frame, it is truly amazing to see her handling the large golden eagle. Aigerim's elder brother, Nargulan, is not too fond of taking over the tradition of eagle hunting. Thus, herding the livestock becomes his daily chores. Eagle hunting training is certainly not easy - with a very temperamental large prey bird with the grip of claws so strong, Aigerim often sulk on the pain of blisters on her hand. Asker, Aigerim's father has a hope that her daughter could continue the tradition and bring it to the international scene. With the diminishing of eagle hunters to a record low of less than 100 headcount, this tradition is on its way to extinction.