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.
Breaking with centuries of tradition, The young women are becoming Bürkitshi, the Kazakh word for eagle hunters. This shift is no accident. For the Kazakhs, Eagle hunting has slowly transitioned from a means of survival to a sight-seeing 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 may be the only way to prevent the sport from becoming diluted or dying out completely.
My images are a glimpse into the soul of these ancient hunters in a time of rapid change. When I observe the relationship between the Bürkitshi and their eagles, I see a deep bond and a rich unspoken language. Yes, the hunt is violent, but the Bürkitshi’s intimate connection with their animals instills the sport with a sense of grace and art.
Cultural and environmental changes are affecting the region, but 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 a cup of chai around an open fire. Only now, those stories are being told by brave new huntresses.