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The Birkitshi: Eagle Hunters' Last Stand

keith harmon snow | Mongolia

Khuangol is a birkitshi, an eagle hunter. Balapan is his hunting eagle. They hunt rabbit, fox, marmot, ground squirrel, wolf and wild cat. He is single, thirty-one years old. His parents have arranged his marriage. She is 25. She waits for him in the village of Sagsai.

Bayan-Ölgii is a province located in the Altai Mountains of western Mongolia—the wild wild frontier where China, Kazahkstan, Mongolia and Russia meet.  Here live an estimated 250 birkitshi—eagle hunters maintaining a 4000 year old tradition of hunting with birds of prey. They hunt on horseback using golden eagles, falcons and owls to locate and catch red foxes, corsac foxes, wild cats, marmots and smaller mammals hardy enough to survive the harsh Altai climate. They are known as "eagle hunters" and their way of life and traditions are threatened by the influences of modernity.

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