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Training Of Golden Eagles: Kyrgyzstan's Thriving Tradition

File photo of a Kyrgyz and Golden Eagle.

Issyk-Koul Region, Kyrgyzstan (AFP) Sep 07, 2005
Perched on his trainer's arm, Duman, a great golden eagle with a two-meter wing span, patiently awaits the chance to launch into flight over Kyrgyzstan's Issyk-Koul lake and seize his prey before admiring eyes of falconry fans.

The hares are set loose, and the trainer takes off the leather cap that until now blinded the bird -- which instantly homes in on the fleeing animals.

At a signal, Duman rockets into the sky, makes a small reconnaissance circle and then plunges down onto one of the sacrificed hares, seizing it by the throat and pinning it to the ground.

Dozens of tourists from as far as the United States and Japan travel in late August to this picturesque region of eastern Kyrgyzstan to take part in the festival dedicated to birds of prey -- especially the golden eagle, whose training is highly prized in this part of the country.

Ishenbai Kydyrov, Duman's owner, is one of an old family of golden eagle trainers which has lived on the banks of Issyk-Koul for centuries.

Himself a businessman, he pursues the family tradition in his spare time.

"Sometimes it seemed to me that my father could speak the eagles' language, so deeply they understood each other," Kydyrov recalled.

"My father taught me that the most important thing in taming the eagle is to be as gentle as possible with it, as if dealing with a baby. Later, when the bird gets used to you, it becomes very close, like a brother."

Kydyrov has dozens of apprentices to confide his falconry secrets to.

"One must search out birds to train directly in the nest, or catch them later with a net. The true raptors have strong talons and powerful wings," he explained.

"The trainer must place a cap on the eagle's head and keep it perched on his arm for hours without the bird falling asleep. This way it gets used to its future master," the Kyrgyz expert said.

Then the trainers teach the bird to eat from their hands. An average raptor eats about a kilogram of raw meat a day.

The training takes nearly a month.

"One must not, for any reason, cry or frighten the bird. An eagle never forgets a slight and can fly away and never come back," Kydyrov warned.

Duman, who weighs nearly 10 kilograms (22 pounds), is capable of snaring an animal weighing up to 15 kilograms (33 pounds) -- at the beginning of the hunting season he had seized six foxes.

The golden eagle is Kyrgyzstan's official emblem, and the small mountainous republic's people treat it with a particular reverence.

"For the Kyrgyz, it is a sacred bird which brings good fortune," said Talbat Shaibyrov, a young trainer also present at the festival.

By his side, 58-year-old Asset Radjanov proudly recalled how his grandfather's bird saved his village's inhabitants from starvation during the second World War.

"It was a powerful bird, capable of lifting a mouflon (wild sheep) three meters above ground. It would drop its prey from that height and my grandfather had only to pick it up. Thanks to its hunt, my people managed to survive," Radjanov said.

In the wild, eagles can live up to 100 years, while in captivity their life expectancy rarely tops 45 years -- which is why Kyrgyz trainers generally give them back their freedom after a decade of loyal service.

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