The Eagle Festival in Bayan Ulgii, Mongolia, is an opportunity for residents of the province, which is overwhelmingly Kazakh, to celebrate their distinct culture. The Kazakhs of western Mongolia are considered to have preserved these traditions better than Kazakhstan itself, and Bayan Ulgii can feel like a different country from the rest of Mongolia.
The birds are large and powerful, and can have wingspans of more than two meters (six feet). During the annual competition, eagle trainers on horseback hold a piece of meat as a lure and ride away from the eagles. Then the birds are released from a mountain side and fly several hundred meters to catch up with their owners and snatch the meat from their hands. The massive golden eagles also chase down live foxes and a captured wolf during the competition. Around 100 eagles and their trainers participated in the two-day festival.
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Andrew Cullen is a freelance journalist based in Hovd, Mongolia.