The centuries-old tradition of hunting with eagles faces a dilemma: How to preserve a fading tradition in the 21st century?
In parts of China, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia, using eagles to hunt is deeply rooted in a culture in which men worked with birds of prey as early as the 15th century. It’s a rite of passage for Kazakh boys in western Mongolia who learn the craft as early as 13. Passed down through generations, the tradition has a strict set of rules and practices. The hunts happen during winter, when teams of hunters chase their prey by horseback and release an eagle to make their kill. Hunting once provided furs and meat during harsh winters, but the tradition is battling a dwindling number of hunters.
A community of hunters in mountains of Qinghe County in northwestern China is attempting to preserve the art. The community holds a festival where eagle hunters compete. Kevin Frayer of Getty Images photographed the festival in late January.
“You don’t really control the eagle,” Asher Svidensky, whose photographs of hunting with eagles were published by BBC. “You can try and make her hunt an animal — and then it’s a matter of nature. What will the eagle do? Will she make it? How will you get her back afterwards?”