Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hunting with an Eagle, near Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan: September 29, 2014


After spending the night in a yurt camp on the shores of Issyk Kul, Artiom (our guide) took us to a large clearing to meet a man who practices the nomadic tradition of hunting with an eagle. We met Talgar and his golden eagle, Tumara. Tumara is driven to hunting demonstrations in the back of Talgar's VW Golf. Tumara means "luck" in Kyrgyz, and she is 10 years old. Talgar has had her since she was 1-1/2 months old when stole her from the nest. Before stealing Tumara, he watched the nest for some time to see if the eagle parents were feeding the eaglets with small animals like mice and rabbits or with larger game such as wolf cubs and foxes. Since Tumara's eagle parents were bringing back larger animals for their eaglets, he knew the eaglets would have good hunting genetics.

Tumara is a champion hunter, but Talgar hasn't always been so lucky with the eaglets he has taken from nests. His four prior eaglets were not successful hunters so each one was released to the wild when they reached about 1 year of age.

Talgar said he will release Tumara to the wild when she turns 20 years old. He compared that day to giving his daughter away to marry and leave his home. Talgar and Tumara are very close.


Both Dan and I held Tumara (while she was hooded) briefly, but as she sensed through our pulses that we were not Talgar, she quickly jumped off. We were allowed to pet her and her feathers were quite soft and silky to touch.



Then, Talgar placed a cute, little bunny rabbit in the middle of the clearing. The bunny just sat there unaware of the fateful demonstration that was about to take place.


Talgar carried Tumara up the ridge, commanded her to hunt, and turned her loose.


Just as Tumara was about to score a direct hit, the bunny ran,
 and ran,
 and ran.

The little bunny ran into a thicket of bushes (kind of like Brier Rabbit) evading Tumara. Unfortunately, the bunny could not escape the human hunter and was pulled from its hiding place. Talgar returned the wily rabbit to the clearing, and took Tumara back up to the ridge for a second try at scoring one for the predator.

While I was watching Tumara glide toward the clearing, the bunny was hopping toward me. Suddenly, I realized that the bunny was quite close just as Tumara made the hit. Because I was startled, my photo of Tumara's grab of the bunny is not quite in focus, but you can see Tumara balancing on her tail while her talons grab the bunny.



Tumara looks very proud of her capture of the bunny. She must wait until Talgar reaches her and signals before she can begin to eat her prey. I was relieved that Talgar used his knife to limit the bunny's suffering and speed its demise.

Tumara eats about a pound of meat each day during hunting season. The swallowed meat bunches up in the eagle's chest and slowly works its way into the stomach. Talgar even fed Tumara small bits of bunny to show us how trusting they are of each other.


For the final demonstration, Talgar hooded Tumara and placed her on the hillside while he returned to the clearing. His son removed Tumara's hood, and Talgar held up a bloody bunny foot and whistled. Tumara flew down the hillside and onto Talgar's arm to gnaw on the foot.


With Tumara's bunny breakfast finished, it was time for some oral hygiene. Talgar held up a stone and Tumara rubbed her beak against the stone. This is to keep her beak sharp and shapely.


It was an amazing demonstration of nomadic tradition. Nomads were hunters and meat eaters. Several times we've been told a joke about nomads and their carnivorous habits. The "joke" is that Kyrgyz people are second only to wolves in the amount of meat consumed per capita.

I am sorry about the bunny.

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