HUNT­ING FOXES WITH EA­GLES

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

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,”

yet had

the

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.”

pa­tience

and

Cui Jia con­trib­uted to this story.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Kazakh ea­gle train­ers pre­pare for a hunt­ing trip with their ea­gles.

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