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Bökönbayevo, Kyrgyzstan - Aug'18
The tradition of hunting with large birds of prey, mainly golden eagles, goes back hundreds of years in Kyrgyzstan, and probably dates back to the Mongol conquest around the 12th and 13th centuries.  These days, the art is slowly dying out, and it is only practised by a handful of Kyrgyz and Kazakhs in the region. Before the collectivisations that took place during the Soviet era, the practice was an integral part of normal jailoo life rather than the tourist spectacle it has mostly become today. Bürkütchü, as the practice is known in Kyrgyz, is now mostly put on as a demonstration for tourists, but it was not so in the old days, when a whole family, or even a small village, might depend on the eagle hunter’s skill to provide a reliable supply of animal protein and fur.
The hunters who practise bürkütchü are obliged to forge an intimate relationship with their birds. The birds are captured as chicks from their nest in the wild, a hazardous and, it must be said, environmentally unsound, pursuit that requires scaling precipitous cliff s and avoiding the murderous talons of an enraged and powerful parent. The training process is a highly ritualized procedure that takes three or four years. It has to be done by just one person so that the necessary bond can develop between master and eagle.
Written by Laurence Mitchell
To be continued…
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