The Eagle Huntress

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I was blown away when I came across Asher Svidensky's photographs of the 13-year-old Kazakh eagle huntress, Ashol-Pan, on BBC News. Asher Svidensky, a photographer and travel writer, travelled to Mongolia to document the lives of five young male Kazakh eagle hunters who were starting out their training - and he also photographed Ashol-Pan.

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The Kazakh people, who live in Mongolia today, have preserved the ancient Mongolian tradition of eagle hunting and are the only ones who hunt with golden eagles.

Traditionally, fathers will begin training their sons when they turn thirteen and are strong enough to carry the weight of a grown eagle (a large adult might be as heavy as seven kilograms). It takes hunters about five years to complete their training in the ancient hunting technique. Once the boy has completed his first successful hunt, he receives the title of 'Eagle Hunter'.

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13-year-old eagle hunter, Irka Bolen

The eagles are taken from their nests at a young age and hand reared but are never fully tame. Females are chosen over males as they grow to a larger size. Eight years later, in spring time, the hunter will take his eagle to the mountains, leaving a butchered sheep on the mountain as a farewell present.

"That’s how the Kazakh eagle hunters make sure that the eagles go back to nature and have their own strong newborns, for the sake of future generations. That is the Kazakh tradition’s way of living in harmony with nature." - Svidensky.

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14-year-old Bahak Birgen became the 'Youngest Eagle Hunter in Mongolia'.

"Kazakhs hunt in winter, when the temperatures can drop to -40C. A hunt begins with days of trekking on horseback through snow to a mountain or ridge giving an excellent view of prey for miles around. Hunters generally work in teams. After a fox is spotted, riders charge towards it to flush it into the open, and an eagle is released. If the eagle fails to make a kill, another is released." - BBC News

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 Ashol-Pan at school and a portrait image of her.

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It was around Han Gohadok, south of Ulgii that Svidensky found Ashol-Pan, the daughter of a celebrated eagle hunter.

Ashol-Pan's eldest brother was to be the successor of the eagle hunting tradition in their family however he was drafted to the army and is now an officer. Since then, her father began thinking about training Ashol-Pan instead of him, but said it is entirely her decision if she wants to do it.

Svidensky went out during Ashol-Pan's first time handling the grand eagle and said he was amazed by her comfort and ease. A time when most young boys are intimidated, she was fearless.

If Ashol-Pan does decide she wants to begin training as the first Kazakh eagle huntress, she will be changing what has been male tradition for around 2,000 years.

"The generation that will decide what will happen with every tradition that Mongolia contains is this generation. Everything there, is going to change and is going to be redefined - and the possibilities are amazing." - Svidensky,

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Ashol-Pan dressed in Kazakh uniform, on a mountain top, sending the eagle off and calling it back again.

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Svidensky showing Ashol-Pan's family the photographs on his laptop.

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Asher Svidensky spoke to World Update on the BBC World Service.

Photography: http://www.svidensky.com/

Lei xx