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Fleeting Foxes

December 6, 2010

It was like some twisted Kyrgyz clown car, eight hunters and three eagles crammed into Almaz’s jeep. A boy rode on top of the car for good measure, holding on for dear life. We were driving on a road of dirt and stones, following a river called Chong Ak Suu – “Big White Water.” At its end it trickled into Lake Issyk-Kul, which sparkled at us from afar. In the river’s canyon was a small forest of bare-naked trees, wherein hid our prey. We were on a fox hunt. Every so often I would get smacked in the head with an eagle wing. They were like whiney four-year-olds, itching to get out of the car. “Are we there yet? We want to go flying!”

Soon we had reached the forest, and the clowns piled out of the car. A troupe of boys headed down into the trees, while the eagle handlers stayed up above. I stayed with the hunters, hunched down and quiet. The foxes must not know we’re here. After a while, whistles and hoots echoed from the canyon as our young accomplices swept through the forest, flushing any wildlife our way. The place seemed dead; the eagles waited impatiently. The hollering gradually lost steam and the boys emerged in the open, plodding along with frustration. It seemed all the foxes had been hunted already, with guns but not eagles. Any remainders must have fled to the mountains. We stuffed ourselves back in the car, emptyhanded, damning the men with their newfangled rifles.



A few days later, at Sary’s place, the eagle men finally got the upper hand. A not-so-cunning fox had slipped into a steel claw, and the hobbled animal was now being kept in a box in the yard. Such news must travel fast, because some eagle hunting neighbors soon arrived with a bird that was hungry for a hunt. Until recently, their eagle had been in different hands, with an amateurish man who had made it a trophy for tourists. The bird had hardly done anything but perch on arms for two years straight.  It seemed a sad shell of what a raptor could be. It might lose its animal instinct, they thought; it needed to catch its own prey, earn its own meal. The fox in the box would be its dinner for the day.

The neighbors, a blue-eyed Kubat and Ruslan his son, hunched over the crate inspecting the catch. It slunk into the corner. With a loop on a stick they wrangled it out of its confines, but when it was dragged out into the open it was clear why it hadn’t put up much of a fight. It’s leg was snapped in half. A bone shot out gruesomely, and the foot just hung there, swaying as it struggled. I started to sympathize, but that’s not a habit a hunter need cultivate. An eagle must eat. This was it’s food. Apologies to vegetarians, but around these parts you do not sympathize with your food. You eat it, and live another day. The foxes eyes bulged madly. I took pictures, putting the camera between me and its pain, trying to file away my feelings into a cultural storage shed.

Not much later, the fox was being eaten alive by the eagle. The giant bird threw out its wings and arched them over its catch. This is mine, it said. Stay away. It plucked out its fur on its way to the tastier parts, never stopping to consider the foxes muffled protests. The foxes snout had been tied shut anyways, and nothing much came out but the most guttural of groans, groans that slowly lost volume as the fur gave way to skin and the skin gave way to meat and the hungry eagle had its treat.

On the walk back to Sary’s, the bird’s breast billowed out, absurdly swollen. It would store its food here for later digestion. Sary had inspected the bird before, and had considered it just a typical burkut, as the eagles here are called. Now he had changed his mind. This was a proud bird, he said, and something special. It was kyran, keen-eyed. Kubat asked which kind it might be – the sage knew over forty burkut varieties. Sary refused to tell. “Just wait. Feed it more. It will remember who it once was, and you will know.” On Ruslan’s arm, the eagle sat full and fulfilled. The fox was but a memory.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah permalink
    December 7, 2010 12:50 am

    That was depressing.

  2. Datkayim permalink
    December 13, 2010 7:42 pm

    it was terrible to post the picture of this poor fox on the web. did you think about people who doesn’t like hunting and sad stories? Very unfortunate if you think this story is something amazing you can tell about Kyrgyz people to the world. Please look for something unique what nobody has in other parts of the world. Hunters are everywhere the same and I don’t like them , especially if they do it for fun or for tourists.

    • December 14, 2010 10:12 am

      I knew that this wasn’t a post that people would find pleasant. Hunting involves blood and death, something that many people would rather not hear about. But for better or for worse, traditional Kyrgyz hunting is my research topic and I will see such things and report them as they happen. If you don’t like hunting and stories about it, then a blog of a hunting researcher is the wrong place to be.

      I disagree that I should be looking for something more unique which nobody has in other parts of the world. I chose this topic precisely because it is unique – of all the cultures in the world, only the Kyrgyz and Kazakh people have a tradition of hunting with eagles. You may not like hunters, but this isn’t something they do for fun or for tourists. It’s something they do to honor their heritage and and ways of their ancestors. It’s been a part of Kyrgyz life for hundreds of years, and it won’t go away because some people find it unpleasant.


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