As photographer Palani Mohan writes in the introduction to his four-years-in-the-making photography book on these people and their hunting practices: ‘In this barren landscape, where temperatures plummet to -40°C in winter, live the last of the men who hunt with eagles’.
Hunting with Eagles contains almost a hundred large, duotone images, each offering a stark glimpse into the lives of these extraordinary men and the birds of prey they capture as eagle pups, bond with, and eventually hunt the vast Mongolian plains and mountains together with. The photographs reveal hunter’s faces etched with the marks of hard living, but also the warmth the men show towards their golden eagles (far more warmth than they seem to show towards their wives and families). Mohan estimates that there are no more than 50 or 60 true hunters left, and each winter claims a few more.
Meanwhile their children leave for easier lives in the cities, abandoning the practices that have governed their peoples’ lives for generations. There is a special bond between the hunters and their hunting partners, and this is captured brilliantly with photos of hunters, wrapped up tightly, thick snow up to their knees and an eagle perched on their forearm.
Many of the portraits capture the essence of these individuals and their families. There are few smiles, and fewer touches of affection, but there is a real sense of calm and endurance. Meanwhile the endless landscapes add to the overall image of an inhospitable world inhabited by a small number of determined men and their families. Much has changed for these people, and Mohan has captured tantalising glimpses of potentially the last generations of true nomadic golden eagle hunters in Mongolia.
HUNTING WITH EAGLES: In the Realm of the Mongolian Kazakhs by Palani Mohan; Merrell; £30 (hardback)
This review was published in the November 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine.