While documenting the lives of Kazakh eagle hunters (hunters who train eagles to assist in hunting small animals) photographer Asher Svidensky came across 13-year-old eagle huntress, Ashol Pan, in the Bayan-Olgii province. Pan is the daughter of a longtime eagle hunter, and her father is supportive of her role in keeping eagle hunting alive for the next generation of Kazakhs. Although eagle hunting is a traditionally male-dominated endeavor, Pan’s father has encouraged his daughter, along with his son, to learn the skill.
More great photographs of Kazakh eagle hunters can be viewed at Svidensky’s website. And while all of the photos are spectacular–and important documentation of a culture facing an uncertain future–Svidensky was inspired to find young Pan breaking cultural norms.
“I knew I was dealing with the question of the Mongolia’s eagle hunter’s future, so I thought to myself, what is keeping me from looking for my own answer to this question?” he writes on his website. “What will I like to see in the coming years? … I had gone looking for my eagle huntress. I found her in the form of Ashol Pan.” Svidensky documented Pan, pictured here, interacting with her eagle. “I was amazed by her comfort and ease as she began handling the grand eagle for the first time in her life,” writes Svidensky. “She was fearlessly carrying it on her hand and caressing it somewhat joyfully.” Eagle hunting has been an integral part of Kazakh culture for more than 1000 years. Although Kazakh culture is shifting to adapt to the modern world, tradition still reigns supreme. Every October, the Golden Eagle Festival is held to celebrate the livelihood. Traditionally, eagle hunting is a family skill passed on from father to son. According to the Middle East Falcon Research Group, there are approximately 250 eagle hunters in Western Mongolia. The practice is known by several names in Kazakh: “berkutchy” (spelled “berkutchi” by the Bugu clan) or “kusbeguy” by professional hunters. A popular Kazakh proverb states, “There are three things a real man should have: a fast horse, a hound, and a golden eagle.”