In Mongolia’s Altai mountains, the nomadic Kazakh hunters that inhabit the area have some additional support when out on the hunt. Namely, enormous golden eagles that are given a place of favor in the households of these people who live off the land.
The eagles are born wild. Hunters capture them when they’re about four years old, climbing dangerous cliffs to steal them from their nests and bring them home.
Once taken in, the eagles are fed by hand and kept indoors. Considering temperatures in the Mongolian mountains can can reach -40 degrees, the birds’ care and comfort is important to their keepers.
But a golden eagle can never really be a pet. While well cared for by their keepers, they are also trained to hunt fresh food for the hunters’ families. Because of their size, only female eagles are hunters.
Golden eagles are powerful enough to take down animals 10 times their weight, including deer and even the occasional wolf. Their usual prey, however, are foxes and hares.
Because the eagles are not truly domesticated, some days they don’t feel like hunting, and trainers have to respect that.
After about a decade of service, the beloved eagle is taken far away, and released. The companionship, however, is genuine, and hunters may have to hide to keep the eagle from following them home.