This is Ashol-Pan, a 13-year-old Kazakh eagle huntress living in the rugged Altai Mountains of western Mongolia. The daughter of a famous hunter, she’s one of only 400 practicing eagle hunters, and the only known female to ever partake in the tradition in its 2,000-year history.
The Kazakhs of the Altai mountains are the only people that hunt with golden eagles, which are taken from nests at a young age. Females are chosen due to their larger size — the typical adult is around 15 pounds, with a wingspan of over 90 inches. Hunts occur in winter, when the temperatures can drop to -40F. Hunters work in teams, trekking on horseback for days in order to reach a mountain or ridge for a better view. When an animal is spotted, riders charge towards it to flush it into the open, and an eagle is released. If the eagle fails to make a kill, another is released.
After years of service, a hunter releases his mature eagle once and for all during the spring, leaving a slaughtered sheep as a farewell present. This ensures that the eagles go back to nature and have their own strong newborns, for both their future and those of the hunters that depend on them.