Nestled in the snowy mountaintops of Western Mongolia, the Kazakhs have mastered the ancient and noble art of hunting with eagles. For nomadic tribes, their survival depends not only on training these majestic birds but in passing on their skills to the younger generation. For centuries, this knowledge has been transferred from father to son, but that’s all beginning to change.
The young women are becoming Bürkitshi, the Kazakh word for eagle hunters. This shift is no accident. Eagle hunting has slowly transitioned from a means of survival to a sightseeing attraction. This influx of commercialism has altered their trading power and divided the community. No longer are they exchanging goods and furs, now they are earning currency through tourism. Teaching the art of eagle hunting to women makes the Kazakh even more interesting to tourists and prevents the sport from becoming diluted or dying out completely.
These images are a glimpse into the soul of the hunters in a time of rapid change. There is a deep bond and a rich unspoken language between the Bürkitshi and their eagles. Yes, the hunt is violent, but the Bürkitshi’s intimate connection with their animals instills the sport with a sense of grace and art.
For those that truly live as Bürkitshi, the future doesn’t faze them. They still hunt in the way of their ancestors, migrate through the rugged terrain and share stories over cups of fermented mare's milk and baursak (fried dough balls). Only now, these stories are being told by brave new huntresses.