HUNTING FOXES WITH EAGLES
Otherwise, nomads bait them with meat and nab them with nets. Or they find eagles gobbling carrion and wait until the birds overindulge. Bloated raptors are too sluggish to escape after excessive gluttony.
Golden eagles gulp about 2 kilograms of meat a day.
“Some herdsmen raise them because Wormanbek says.
Meat means money in nomadic communities, where livestock is the primary currency.
The birds molt from May to September and need more nutrition to grow thicker and longer feathers in autumn.
Wormanbek’s current eagle is nearly a year old. The birds live 11 years on average.
That said, elderly eagles are typically set free to live out their last days in the wild. It’s like retirement.
Incompetent predators are laid off early.
“Some are born hunters. Others just steal their prey,” Wormanbek says.
His yearling hasn’t chance to prove itself.
The season for hunting with eagles starts in September, when snow makes tracks conspicuous.
“The fun isn’t in the killing but in watching the birds diving, tackling and wrestling prey.”
There are more than 100 in Sarkuobu village.
“Some of the old-timers have died. But even more youth are taking up the tradition,” Wormanbek says.
It’s a rare example of an ancient custom that’s flourishing, rather than evaporating, in contemporary times.
Tourism helps rejuvenate burkitshi, he says, but remains an anemically nascent industry in Zhaosu county.
Wormanbek joins a team of eagle hunters during the county’s Heavenly Horse International Tourism Festival to display the tradition for tourists. don’t want to it’s expensive,”
burkitshi They perform for free. About 8,000 visitors attended last year. There isn’t much else to Zhaosu’s tourism beyond the festival — yet. The concept of it as an industry only arrived two years ago.
“Tourists like larger eagles. But they often aren’t the best hunters,” Wormanbek says.
“Bigger isn’t better. The granderseeming birds are often clumsier.”
But Zhaosu’s tiny tourism industry is far from the main motivator.
“Some people in their 80s do it to stay healthy … It’s a true sport. It’s like going to the gymfor me. I’mold but in great shape.”
Most local burkitshi head for the mountains before sunrise and return around 10 to tend to their livestock.
Wormanbek says coaching relies on rewards without punishments.
“Fear training doesn’t work,” he says. “You have to be kind to them.” He says birds won’t eat from trainers’ hands at first. “You must build trust,” he says. Nomads initially skewer meat on sticks and patiently wait until the birds’ hunger overcomes their apprehensions — until their stomachs trump their brains. It’s a battle for the mind. “Gradually, they’ll feel comfortable eating from your hand,” Wormanbek says. The process takes about a month. “At first you must raise your arm about a meter above your head and it’ll perch on your falconry glove,” he said.
The birds later learn to respond to calls.
Eagles also join household during the training.
“He’s a family member, too,” Wormanbek says.
To train eagles to perch on people’s arms on horseback, Ili’sKazakh burkitshi place them on a swinging rope to learn balance. They awake
dinners the raptors if they doze off during these rock-a-bye-birdie sessions.
Nomads prop up the arms upon which they carry the birds on horseback with a Y-shaped crutch.
Kills drills come after intimacy is established with the burkitshi.
Wormanbek explains this while stroking the cloth fox decoy he sewed to drag behind horses with a noose of meat dangling from its mouth for eagles to practice plunging on.
The irony of his gentle petting of the teddy-like animal, with button eyes and a real foxtail (provided by his previous eagle), while describing how the gaming birds kill them, seems lost on him.
As he strokes the cuddly creature, he describes how an eagle’s blinders are its detonation device.
“The eagle is constantly on high alert without its mask. It’s exhausting for the bird,” Wormanbek says.
Once it’s off, it immediately scans for predators and prey.
Before a hunt, nomads whet the birds’ appetites with a chunk of meat from which the blood is washed until it’s white. “It wants blood,” Wormanbek says. Catching an animal satiates its hunting instinct inflamed by the pallid meat, he says.
Wormanbek says training eagles in turn physically and mentally trains the burkitshi.
“Eagles are smart and tough but also sensitive,” Wormanbek says.
“They’re disappointed if they don’t catch anything. When they feel like this, you should pet and hug them and offer soothing words. They don’t like anything gruff.”
Wormanbek says he was brusque until he became a burkitshi.
“Once I started training eagles, they in turn, trained me,” Wormanbek says.
“They taught me serenity.”
Cui Jia contributed to this story.
Kazakh eagle trainers prepare for a hunting trip with their eagles.