Large eagles.The golden eagles in the Altai mountains have a wingspan of 2,5 meters and weigh up to 7 kilos when fully grown.
Family life.The eagles are tamed, fed by hand and live with the owner`s family for years.
Captivity.For large parts of the year, the eagles are not actively hunting. In modern times they have eagles for hunting because it is a traditional sport. In order for the eagle to be calm and unaffected by its surroundings, a hood is placed over the eyes and the feet are chained.
Interior decoration. There are large distances to the nearest neighbour in the steppe landscape. Hospitality is therefore a big part of their culture, and the most common drink to be served from the Mongolian cuisine is kumis made from horse milk. Kumis is milky white and sour with a cheesy aftertaste.
Pride. It is status among Kazahk people to own an eagle. In tradition hunters wear fox fur hats cought by their closest hunting friend.
ModernizationThe Kazahk people are shepherds and live in yurt tents. A family of six don`t mind waching a series of Korean soap operas dubbed in Kazahk as the evening descends. Both husband and wife have long working days required to survive under demanding primitive conditions.
Relocation. Kazakh nomads have modernized transportation options. Instead of using horses and camels, they carry most of their personal belongings from winter camps to summer camps in a rented old Russian truck from a local village with a driver.
Establishment summer camp. The Kazahk people seek colder climates higher up in the Altai mountains during summer to avoid a lot of mosquitos, as well as change grazing for their animals.
Eagle hunting. The hunters take their eagle up to a vantage point with a horse, where the eagle can fly out and scout for prey. The eagle is trained to return to the owner.
Hunting mode. The golden eagle in Mongolia hunt both hares and foxes. Well-trained hunting eagles also hunt wolf by landing on the wolf´s head at high speed knocking the wolf unconscious, and then cutting the wolf`s throat with its sharp claws that can be 5cm long.
The female eagles are used for eagle hunting because they are the largest and most aggressive.
Proud horsmen. The roots of the Kazahk people can be traced back to the 15th century and to Chengis Kahn. The Kazahk minority settled in the Altai mountains in the 19th century after fleeing the Russian Empire for fear of it ending their nomadic lifestyle. The horse is still their primary means of transportation. Here the hunters are on their way home after hunting training.

Wings of Altai

Robert McPherson
Photojournalist based in Drammen city
Deep into the Altai mountains, where Russia, China, Kasakhstan and Mongolia meet, Kazakh people have for centuries developed and nurtured a special bond with golden eagles. The tradition is 6,000 years old and dates back to the era of Gengis Kahn. 

The golden eagles live in the high Altai mountains of western Mongolia. They build nests in the cliffs on the rugged peaks of the area – there are no trees here. 

Hunters belonging to traditional nomadic clans from the country`s Kazakh minority climb up to these crevices to catch the birds at four years of age. At that age, they are old enough to know how to hunt, but young enough to be flexible to human company and training. 

Public Story
Wings of Altai
Copyright Robert McPherson 2022
Date of Work Feb 2007 - Nov 2021
Updated Jan 2022
Location Bayan Ulgii
Topics Black and White, Culture stories, Eagle, Eagle hunting, Editorial, Essays, Historical, Kazahk people, Minority, Mongolia, Nomadic lifestyle, Photography, Photojournalism, Relationships, Spotlight