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Mongolian girls becoming eagle hunters to help keep ancient tradition alive

Ashol Pan, 13, takes to centuries-old pastime that has been dominated by men

eagle hunter

Eagle hunter Ashol Pan of Mongolia lets go of her golden eagle. Photo by Asher Svidensky/Caters News Agency, used by permission

A photographer seeking to document the next generation of Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia discovered a 13-year-old girl who has taken to the male-dominated tradition.

Photographer Asher Svidensky made a four-month trek through western Mongolia, mostly on horseback, and found Han Gohadok and his daughter, Ashol Pan, who had expressed a desire to take up the full-time profession that is centuries old.

Good thing, too, since the ancient pastime is said to be a dying part of Mongolian culture, as young men are leaving their families and the hunting duties behind. As a result, more girls are becoming eagle hunters to replace their brothers, according to the Mail Online.

Gohadok told the Mail Online that his eldest son was to become the eagle hunter of the family but was drafted into the army. That’s when Ashol Pan stepped forward.

eagle hunter

Eagle hunter Ashol Pan of Mongolia holds her golden eagle, giving perspective on the size of the bird. Photo by Asher Svidensky/Caters News Agency, used by permission

Eagle hunters use golden eagles to hunt foxes during the winter months when the gold-colored foxes stand out against the snow. They also hunt hares. Typically, the training of young men begins at age 13, when they are strong enough to carry a full-grown eagle on their arm.

The training is rigorous, as the master and its eagle develop a long-term and trusting relationship that is all consuming. The Kazakh custom is for the eagle hunter to ride a horse while hunting.

Svidensky was looking for something different when he set out to document eagle hunters in Mongolia.

“I decided to focus myself—stop looking for a portrait of a centuries-old image of a Kazakh eagle hunter and instead represent the future of this ancient Mongolian tradition,” Svidensky told the Mail Online.

Ashol Pan represents the future. She is one of an estimated 250 eagle hunters in western Mongolia.

In his photos, Svidensky depicts the evident joy Ashol Pan has in her new role, one her father never would have forced upon her unless she had asked. And she did.

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eagle hunter

Eagle hunter Ashol Pan of Mongolia is developing a trusting relationship with her golden eagle. Photo by Asher Svidensky/Caters News Agency, used by permission

eagle huter

Eagle hunter Ashol Pan of Mongolia gets an eagle-pat on the head. Photo by Asher Svidensky/Caters News Agency, used by permission

eagle hunter

Eagle hunter Ashol Pan of Mongolia; photo by Asher Svidensky/Caters News Agency, used by permission

eagle hunter

Photographer Asher Svidensky shooting a photo of an eagle hunter’s father on horseback, which is the customary method for eagle hunting. Photo from Caters News Agency, used by permission

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