A local man named Ishenbek in Kyrgyzstan (Photo: Rusavia/Wikimedia)
A gray-haired Kyrgyz man swathed in a blue jacket and topped with an Ak-Kalpak — Kyrgyzstan’s national white felt stovetop hat — stands on the edge of a rocky outcrop looking across the hills and steppes of Issyk Kul. An eagle rests on his gloved arm, dutifully watching for prey to catch and bring back to his master. The man’s name is Ishenbek. He is a traditional nomadic Kyrgyz eagle hunter. Likely, he grew up with his bird, training the animal from the time he was a boy and forming a bond as strong as family.
Eagle hunting is a way of life for many in Kyrgyzstan. The central Asian country was founded on the ideals of a nomadic culture, where natives live in yurts in the countryside and support themselves with eagles, stock raising, tourism, and craft-making. Nomads are historically friendly people, offering tremendous hospitality to anyone who may need it. The way of life has become a national symbol.