Hunting Eagles in Mongolia

Against the backdrop of an unforgiving landscape, the Kazakh tradition of eagle hunting endures. Photographer Frédéric Lagrange documents the culture he first fell in love with seventeen years ago.

  • Words + Photography: Frédéric Lagrange

Mongolia is home to a culture of falconry: a winter sport and a way of life. Against the backdrop of this unforgiving landscape, the Kazakh tradition of eagle hunting endures. From village to hunting ground, frozen lake to mountaintop: nearly 15 years after first visiting the wilds of western Mongolia, Frédéric Lagrange returns to capture the world of the eagle hunters.

I first travelled to western Mongolia during my very first trip to the country in the summer of 2001; I was still a photo assistant then. I had read about eagle hunting, an old Kazakh tradition still practiced by the Kazakh ethnic minority in Mongolia, mostly taking place during the winter months. I organised another trip in the winter of 2004 and planned to spend a few weeks following those eagle hunters. A huge snow storm upset my plans. Caught in a thick layer of snow on a frozen lake, my driver and I were luckily rescued by a military convoy that was passing by, and I ended up spending my precious days in a border military base waiting for the storm to pass.

Dalaikhan at home with his 2-year-old eagle flanked by fox-skin clothes made from catches from past hunts. Female eagles are the preferred choice for hunters as they are stronger, bigger and faster. Every 13 years or so, a new bird is needed and the hunter goes to look for one, generally in July, on remote, difficult-to-access mountain cliffs. Once the hunter reaches the nest, he will select a bird; if it’s a male, he will leave it behind and search for another nest. Three-month-long training then follows before the eagle can start to hunt.

I have been back to Mongolia since, to work on a book project, but I visited different parts of the country, the north, the east and central Mongolia – still keeping in mind the unfinished task I had once started. I finally went back in December 2015 to visit the Kazakh eagle hunters, and add that final work of Mongol life that would complete my book project.

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