Asher Svidensky, a photographer and travel writer, captured what very well might be the only girl in this region who is being trained to hunt with a magnificent golden eagle.
In western Mongolia, where for about 2,000 years boys have been the only ones prepared for the task, a 13-year-old girl named Ashol-Pan is becoming a skilled falconress.
Svidensky explained to the BBC that Ashol-Pan is a cheerful, charming and bashful youngster, but that “To see her with the eagle was amazing. She was a lot more comfortable with it [than the boys], a lot more powerful with it and a lot more at ease with it.”
Despite the fact that the wingspan of her bird is nearly twice her height, she does not appear intimidated whatsoever while handling it.
She is currently being taught along with five Kazakh boys how to use her golden eagle and its remarkable hunting strategies to capture prey throughout the very demanding, vast landscape, which consists of mountains, desert plains and hills.
Ashol-Pan will soon have to go out for days at a time and endure freezing temperatures so she and her golden eagle can explore the landscape for food.
“You don’t really control the eagle. You can try and make her hunt an animal – and then it’s a matter of nature. What will the eagle do? Will she make it? How will you get her back afterwards?” Svidensky says, while trying to describe what it’s like to harness an unpredictable force of nature.
The Altai mountain range is the only place on Earth where people use the traditional nomadic style of hunting using golden eagles. The practice involves long treks through the mountains in order to get a better scope of prey.
Currently, there are estimated to be about 400 falconers throughout Mongolia.
According to Svidensky, the golden eagles are not bred in captivity, but are actually taken from their nests very soon after being hatched. And after completing years of service, he says they are released and presented with a butchered sheep on top of the mountain as a departing gift.
“That’s how the Kazakh eagle hunters make sure that the eagle hunters make sure that the eagles go back to nature and have their own strong newborns, for the sake of future generations,” says Svidensky.
In the wild, golden eagles have been known to live up to 32 years.