By Kulpash Konyrova
Astana, Jan 11 (EFE).- Falconry with eagles, an ancient tradition among Central Asian nomads, seeks to become a universal art that draws tourists worldwide to the steppes of Kazakhstan.
“This tradition allows me to feel the true spirit of the nomads, my ancestors, who managed to domesticate such a proud bird and, with its help, obtain food,” Yeltai Muptekeyev, a trainer of berkuts, the golden eagles of the Central Asian steppe, told EFE.
Falconry, a millennia-old art, straddles tradition and sport. Notably, the International Federation of Falconers was recently established, including specialists from Kazakhstan, Turkey, Russia, Mongolia, and Kyrgyzstan.
A Millennia-Old Tradition
Muptekeyev is one of 200 Kazakh falconers, known as “burkutchi,” who faithfully preserve this nomadic heritage.
“I learned the secrets of eagle training from my father, he from his grandfather, and so on, up to seven generations. As long as I can remember, there has always been an eagle in my house,” he said.
He is now teaching his 18-year-old son, Yersultan, the art of falconry, which UNESCO declared in 2010 as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Falconry has been practiced for thousands of years on the Central Asian steppe and has long been a tradition in places like China, the Arab world, Europe, and Latin America.
In Kazakhstan, the eagle is a national symbol, emblematic of freedom and independence, reminiscent of the hordes of Genghis Khan.
Taming the ‘Bird of God’
Kazakh hunters affectionately refer to the eagle as the “bird of God.” The primary commandments of training berkut are considered almost divine secrets.
Muptekeyev revealed some of these, noting that training should start when these birds of prey are young. “As eagles are in the Red Book, we generally choose chicks that fall from their nests during strong wind gusts. We raise them at home. They must be fed at least one kilogram of fresh meat daily,” he said.
The falconer explained that berkut can only begin training once they have fully bonded with their owner. “It’s a lengthy process that requires patience and restraint,” he added.
When the bird gets used to the falconer’s arm, the man walks with the eagle, accompanied by a dog and on horseback, to teach it to remain calm in any situation. This way, the three animals learn to hunt as one team.
“To turn the birds into domesticated hunters, accustomed to responding to their names and obeying commands, takes at least between nine months and a year,” he said.
“Dayir,” meaning New Era, is the name given by this burkutchi to his latest chick. A name that could be considered prophetic, as Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports believes falconry should now become one of the country’s main attractions due to its significant tourism potential.
Kazakh authorities have elevated falconry to the status of a national sport, with state funding supplemented by local and international tournaments held at least three times a year that occur with the first snow on the northern steppe or southern mountain slopes.
“From September 8 to 14, the World Nomad Games will take place in Kazakhstan, featuring a falconry tournament among competitors from various countries,” the Kazakh explained.