Alymkul Obolbekov - eagle hunter
Alymkul Obolbekov, 80, is an eagle hunter. That is not to say that he hunts for eagles but rather with an eagle. For over 65 years Alymkul has been training these powerful raptors to hunt for game, including rabbits, fox, wolves, pheasants and badgers. He spoke with us at his home in Barskoun. Alkymkul recalls catching his first eagle when he was 13 and trained it with the help of his father. ‘The knowledge of this trade has been passed down from father to son for hundreds of years. I am only one link in the long line of history,’ he said.
Alkymkul placed the eagle on a perch and swayed it while his father sang ballad after ballad. The sound of his voice became imprinted upon the bird and formed a union between master and servant. Later Alkymkul did the same with the many birds he caught. In the next stage of training, Alkymkul attached animal skins to a rope and dragged them behind his galloping horse. His father released the eagle, giving it a chance to chase after the skins. When the eagle was ready for the real thing, they headed for the hills.
‘Hunting is a team effort,’ said Alkymkul. ‘My dad would take the eagle to the top of the hills and I would stay below to scare up game.’ Their team effort paid dividends, as the fox and rabbit pelts added up. But Alkymkul recalls catching a wolf as his single best memory. With one talon the eagle grabbed the wolf’s back and with the other talon she clenched onto its snout. Using a club, Alkymkul’s father put the wolf out of its misery.
Alkymkul emphasized that raising eagles is a labour of love and real berkutchi (hunters) do not seek a profit from it. ‘We loved our eagles like members of the family, but we know that they had their own home in the mountains. After a year or two we released them back to the wild to free their spirit.’ For travellers, the best time to see eagles in action is after their summer moult between October and February.