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On Horseback Among the many Eagle Hunters and Herders of the Mongolian Altai

9-year-old Dastan, the son of a Kazakh eagle hunter, rode his pony alongside mine, cantering effortlessly and not using a saddle and guffawing at my makes an attempt to indicate my fluffy pony some affection — a gesture that the animal wasn’t accustomed to.

Surrounding us was the huge, desolate panorama of the Altai Mountains of western Mongolia. From the grassy valley the place horses grazed alongside the river, the rocky, gold-tinted terrain stretched endlessly towards the jagged ridges within the distance, with a dusting of snow heralding the arrival of winter.

On horseback with Dastan, I used to be reminded in some methods of my childhood in Wales, the place I spent my days driving my pony via the countryside, having fun with the quiet pure fantastic thing about my environment, all the time with a scorching cup of tea ready for me on the finish of an extended day.

In October 2019, after virtually three years dwelling and dealing in northern Iraq, the place I lined the nation’s efforts to defeat the Islamic State, I started engaged on a private images challenge that drew on my background and affinity with horses. My purpose was to discover the relationships between animals — horses, specifically — and the folks whose livelihoods depend upon them.

To begin, I flew to western Mongolia to satisfy and the enduring Kazakh hunters, horsemen and animal herders.

With the assistance of a neighborhood information and translator, I traveled from the city of Olgii, the capital of Bayan-Olgii province, to go to a few of the seminomadic herding households who proceed to dwell off the land in an especially harsh surroundings.

Encompassing the westernmost space of Mongolia, Bayan-Olgii is the nation’s solely Muslim and Kazakh-majority province, or aimag.

Deep within the Altai Mountains, the place Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia meet, Kazakh folks have for hundreds of years developed and nurtured a particular bond with golden eagles, coaching the birds to hunt foxes and different small animals.

Alankush, an eagle hunter, animal herder and father of two, mentioned that he takes care of his eagle “as if she have been a child.”

The traditional customized of searching with eagles on horseback is historically handed down from father to son at a younger age and is taken into account a terrific supply of delight.

“All Kazakhs love to coach eagles,” mentioned Alankush. “Now we hold eagles largely as a result of it’s a conventional sport.”

Serik Gingsbek, who was 26 after I met him, is a widely known and completed eagle hunter, sportsman and horse coach. He talked at size with me about his particular relationship together with his eagle.

“If my eagle feels dangerous, I really feel dangerous,” he mentioned. “If she’s pleased, I’m pleased. After we go to the mountains, we share every little thing collectively.”

In current generations, many Kazakh households have migrated from the countryside to city areas, partly due to the difficulties in accessing well being care, schooling, social providers and employment alternatives. Amongst those that have stayed, the traditional follow of eagle searching has offered an extra supply of earnings from the guests who pay to see the famed birds in motion.

Coaching and caring for golden eagles is only one side of an animal herder’s life; others embody coaching younger horses, tending sheep, milking yaks and butchering meat.

The each day calls for of a conventional herding household’s life can depart little time for added schooling or the pursuit of private ambitions away from house.

In response to their bodily demanding existence, dad and mom who work as herders usually ship their youngsters to boarding faculty in cities and cities, generally removed from house, within the hope that their youngsters will safe a extra snug future.

Regardless of having lived his total life within the mountains, Alankush mentioned he hopes for a distinct path for his youngsters. “I don’t have an schooling, and I’m not younger,” he informed me. “If I have been younger, possibly I’d go to Olgii to work — however for me it’s higher to remain within the countryside.”

“Countryside life may be very onerous, particularly for youngsters,” he mentioned. “That’s why I ship my youngsters to highschool. In the event that they end college, I hope they’ll discover jobs within the metropolis.”

Paradoxically, such parental ambitions might consequence within the eventual disappearance of a tradition and lifestyle that has survived for generations.

Outwardly, documenting the standard methods of life in western Mongolia stands in stark distinction to my time spent photographing scenes of battle and struggling in Iraq. However the two topics share a standard theme: the human wrestle not simply to outlive, however to construct a greater future for oneself and one’s household.

That common wrestle might be present in conditions of battle, occupation and compelled emigration, simply as it may be discovered within the circumstances of a nomadic folks subsisting on what many would think about meager sources.

And regardless of the variations within the environment and the scope of the challenges confronted by the folks I met, I felt a connection — and shared a standard language — with the Kazakh horsemen, via our mutual affinity with horses.

Claire Thomas is a British photographer and photojournalist who focuses on battle, humanitarian and environmental crises and social points. You may comply with her work on Instagram and Twitter.

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