The Ancient Practice Of Golden Eagle Hunting Is Making A Comeback

What would it take for you to trap a golden eagle? Imagine pursuing a 3-foot, 15-pound bird with a wingspan of over 6 feet that reaches speeds of up to 190 miles per hour. Think you can handle that? Just be sure to steer clear of their razor sharp, bone-breaking talons. If you're starting to wonder who in their right minds would hunt such an intimidating animal, say hello to golden eagle hunters, the bürkitshiler. They're named after the Kazakh word for eagle, "bürkit," and have been hunting these birds for centuries.

Golden eagle hunting can be traced back 4,000 years to the Chinese Han Dynasty. Marco Polo also mentioned eagle hunting with Genghis Khan's grandson, Kublai Khan, in the 12th century. Due to the cultural importance that the Kasakhs place on genealogy, we know that some families, like the one documented in the 2016 documentary The Eagle Huntress, have been passing this tradition on for centuries. But how do they do it? As Sony Classics explains, there are five main aspects of eagle hunting: "trapping, manning, training, hunting, and equipment making. Today you can add a sixth part, competing, as eagle hunters participate in festivals to match their skills against others." During the manning process, hunters actually bond with their eagles and accept the animal into their families.

Eagle hunting used to hold a spiritual importance, but it has been kept alive for its cultural and nationalistic significance. Hunters use their golden eagles to hunt small animals like hares for food, as well as foxes for their fur. The tradition is currently practiced by Kazakhs in Mongolia, as well as in Kazakhstan, and the Saur and Altai ranges in China. It is also kept up by the Kyrgz people in Kyrgyzstan and Akqi, Xinjiang, China, and the Turkmen in Turkmenistan. In August 2015, the Washington Post reported that there are only 70 traditional eagle hunters left in the world. With the growing fascination for this practice, however, these numbers are steadily rising. The Eagle Huntress follows 13-year-old Aisholpan while she trains to be the first female in her family to become an eagle hunter. While female hunters are become increasingly more common in areas like Mongolia, they still receive opposition from conservatives. Want to see this ancient tradition for yourself? Check out the bürkitshiler, Kazakhs, and golden eagles in the videos below.

The Eagle Huntress Official Trailer

Take a sneak peek at The Eagle Huntress, a documentary about 13-year-old Aisholpan on her journey to becoming the first golden eagle huntress in her family.

Hunting With Golden Eagles

Watch trained golden eagles hunt down a fox.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. The Kazakhs don't start hunting with their eagles until the first snows of winter, allowing prey animals to breed and raise their young during the summer. 02:30

  2. Watch trained golden eagles hunt down a fox: 05:10

  3. Golden eagles have a wingspan of about 2 meters, and can swoop down on prey at up to 160 kph. 08:32

Golden Eagle Vs. Hare: Deadliest Showdowns

Learn more about the golden eagle and its hunting methods as you watch the calculated attack on this unsuspecting hare.

Meet The Ancient Kazakhs

Get a crash course on the ancient Kazakhs with Stuff That I Find Interesting's video below.

Written by Curiosity Staff December 2, 2016

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