Where eagles still soar

Updated: 2015-04-03 11:31

By Cui Jia in Beijing(China Daily USA)

Where eagles still soar

A Kazakh herdsman shows off his eagle to a crowd of spectators in a eagle hunting competition in January in Qinghe county, Altay prefecture. Liu Xinhai / for China Daily

Members of the Kazakh and Kirgiz ethnic groups living in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in northwestern China are the only people in China who still carry on the tradition of training eagles to hunt.

To keep the tradition alive, every year the region hosts its eagle hunting competitions, which always attract large numbers of spectators.

In January, Kazakh herdsmen, dressed in thick sheepskin hats and coats, on horseback showed off the perfect collaboration between man and bird-hunting animals such as rabbits and wolves. They were in the snow-covered mountains of Qinghe county, north of Xinjiang (the wolves used as prey in the competition are farm-bred since wild wolves are protected animals in China).

It takes years to train an eagle, one of nature's most dangerous predators, and make it bond with the handler and answer his calls. Winning the eagle's trust is not easy, but once the hunter and the eagle form a strong tie it will last the rest of their lives. The Kazakhs believe the eagles are magical birds that don't hurt their eyes staring straight into the sun. They also worship them.

As a majority of the Kazakhs in Xinjiang don't depend on hunting anymore and many animals they used to hunt have become protected in China, the number of people who know how to train eagles has dramatically decreased.

Kazakhs are determined to carry on the tradition, however, more importantly, to carry on the emotional tie between the eagle and man that has been going on for centuries.


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