Aralbai and Armanbek, Kazakh Eaglehunters

To those Kazakh men who follow the tradition of becoming a berkutchi, the skills and art are often learnt from their fathers. Training a new berkut becomes a family affair as the young eagle lives in their ger (felt tent) and grows up amongst the children.
As the eagle develops often one of the eldest sons follows his father and learns to handle the eagle.
Here at the 2001 Berkut Festival held in Ulgii, western Mongolia, Aralbai (pictured in the centre) with his son Armanbek arrived early morning of the first day. They had been in the saddle for two days as they journeyed to get to the capital for the Festival.
Along the way Aralbai’s berkut had caught a fox which they managed to release from the eagles grip without serious injury. Armanbek immobilised its jaw with a small twig and a length of rawhide to prevent it from biting him and carried the fox in his lap as they continued their journey.
The idea of bringing a live fox to the Festival was to use it as a bagged release for the top three berkuts. When I first heard about some descriptions of the Festival finale I was not too impressed but the release of the fox is to gauge the response speed of the berkuts.

The fox is released at a huge distance and the Berkutchi’s are atop a mountain standing together. The top marks go to the first berkut to leave the arm in pursuit of the fox, the other berkuts are then held back.