The Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan
My journey around Kyrgyzstan took me to the southern shores of Lake Issyk Kul, where I was given a demonstration of the art of Saalburuun, or hunting with eagles.
These local guys - they were also competing at the World Nomad Games the week before! - showed off the prowess of their trained eagles, and put on a rather good photoshoot at the same time.
The Eagles are trained from birth, and after a maximum of twenty years, are released back into the wild. Over this time, and particularly during the initial training, a close bond is formed between man and eagle, a bond that lasts for years. Only one eagle egg will be taken at a time from any individual eagle nest, and the locals ensure that the Eagles are able to hunt for themselves once, ultimately, they are released back into the wild again to live out the rest of their years on their own - some eagles can live up to 60 years even!
The guys also brought along their Taigons, a fluffy looking breed of dog that actually, is trained to hunt and take down wolves in the mountains. They look adorable, but in fact, they are incredibly fast and potentially, very dangerous.
It's an incredibly interesting cultural display, that really showcases one of the region's most intense nomadic traditions.
Locals are slowly reviving their old cultures and ways of life, after spending years under Soviet rule, when traditions were suppressed and nomads were forced to urbanize and to move to towns and villages to permanently settle down.
Here are my favourite pictures of the Eagle Hunters of Kyrgyzstan!
All words and pictures by Richard Collett