Falcon Hunting: Traditions and Modernity

Photo: Ata Eyeberdiyev

Representative of National Falcon Hunting Society will participate in the World Festival of Young Falconers in Abu Dhabi (UAE) in December of this year.

In 2016, the UNESCO included falcon hunting in the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In our country, National Falconers Society carries out the work for protection this valuable layer of national traditions.

The Falconer Club was founded in 1999 in Ashgabat in in 2007 it was renamed to National Falconers Society of Turkmenistan. The work is carried out in three directions where the ornithology is one of them. Representatives of different professions are the lovers of predator birds. There are only one scientist among them – Candidate of Science Juma Saparmuradov. Member of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan and Head of Ornithology Section of National Falconers Society combines the theory and practice.

The years spent next to the birds allowed gaining vast knowledge on falcon’s habits, areas of habitation, nesting period. There are a sculptor Maksat Tugurov, entrepreneurs Jepbar Kutlumuradov and Alexander Kuznetsov, shepherd Ayogdy Cherkezov and representatives of other professions among the members of National Falconers Society. 107 people are united in the association of the falcon hunting lovers. Beside the Saker falcons, there are peregrines, gyrfalcons, Barbary falcons and the work of enthusiasts for accounting of number of nesting of predator birds in the field is very important.

It is not necessary for the falcon to climb high up in the sky to see its victim in order from the height to look for his dish of hare, vole or jerboa. Maximum altitude for the falcon is 1.5 – 2 kilometres from where it scans the smallest details of the landscape on the area of five thousand square kilometres. Upon discovery of potential victim, it falls down like a stone and its speed at this reaches 200-270 kilometres per hour. It also can find its food while sitting on the masters hand. Pursuing the pigeons, this winged bolide makes speed up to 200 kilometres per hour.

From the old times, Turkmens trained the birds for hunting hares and today this tradition did not lose its currency. The fledglings appears forty days after laying of eggs, which normally occurs in March. Young birds are taken from the nests when they are two weeks old and at the same time if the falconers sees that there is only one chick in the nest they leave it alone to keep that nest in the future. Adult birds are quite easy with taking of the fledglings as long as at least one bird remains in the nest.

Having taking the children of wild nature under his care, the human, who becomes a father and mother, provides nourishing food for the birds from the middle of May until the end of August until the falcons get plumage. The food ratio is various, it includes jerboas, pigeons, ground squirrels – this is the meat of these animals where the birds find vitally necessary elements of periodic table, which make the feathers of birds stronger.

Formation of hunting skills starts… hmm, well, from September 1 and this process takes around six months. All this time, the falcon sits on the chair holding tight on the rest getting used to balancing. Right nutrition is very important part of the training. The bird is fed three times a day and only with fresh meat. One months prior to hunting season, the falconer startscarrying the birds on his hand and walking around for one and half hours in the morning and evening. After couple of days, the falcon starts flapping the wings unstoppably in certain hours as if asking for a walk. The carrying trains not only the bird but fosters the patience and discipline of the owner, the future hunter. At the same time, young falcons start having new dish in their menu – steppe hare, the tolay, future prey of the predator.

In order the falcon carried away with hunting will not get lost, the falconer applies an ancient attribute of falcon hunting, the vabala, using which the bird predator find the way back to the owner. The device is represented by felt mat 20 by 15 centimetres covered up with red cloth. The falconer attach small piece of meat to the mat and swing it around his head on 1 – 1.5 meter rope. Sharp falcon’s eyes catch this hinder, the bird comes, takes the meat and eat it on the ground. Only after that, the man takes it to his hands.

At the same time with carrying the falcon in hands, it is introduced and handled with his future hunting colleagues, Turkmen greyhound tazy. From six months age, the dog starts to be trained in joint hunting with the falcon. The make a unique tandem at the correct approach to the training process. Honestly, the first role in hunting for hares always belongs to the falcon while tazy serves as an assistant. However, the details of correct training of dogs are reflected in the hunting process itself. The clever dog knows what and how it has to do without prompring of his elder brother – the man.

People, dog and falcon live under the same roof for a long time in good friendship. Urban citizens Eyeberdiyevs – the head of the family, his wife and two children made comfortable conditions for hunting bird and dog. They made one room as an aviary for the falcon. Tazy Melekush, four-leg friend of Ata Eyeberdiyev, is a hunter by birth, modest, smart and educated dog that does not make any disturbance in people’s living space by its swiftness. Now, Melekush and the falcon are at the summer nursery.

Ata Eyeberdiyev is a hunter in the fifth generation. His grandfathers Nurberdy Aga Eyeberdiyev and Raly Aga Annaberdiyev, the citizens of Ahal velayat, were famous hunters. One of them worked as a shepherd and another as horse breeder but both of them had predator birds and hunting dogs and the grandfathers passed all their knowledge on falcons’ life and hunting methods to their grandson.

Today, the specialist of Tazy section of National Falconers Society of Turkmenistan use the experience of our ancestors during selection of tough and fast dogs. Our ancestors paid great attention to the body, scent and colour of the dog, - Chairman of the Society Ata Eyeberdiyev says. – Turkmen tazy is a sort-haired with sparse fetlocks between the fingers and has light, hardly-visible suspension on the tale. It also has very flexible back, big bulging, live and very expressive eyes. In Turkmenistan, sand hare, the tolay, is the most traditional prey for the falcon hunters. It is almost impossible to get this animal from stingy bushes of saksaul without four-leg hunter.

First of all, the tazy is trained on correct and timely response to the flight of the falcon. Whenever the greyhound is, having noticed the bird taking off from the hand of the falconer, it has to be under swiftly flying bird predator. The tazy that mastered well the hunting technique in pair with falcon is able not only to see but also to hear sharp flap of the falcon’s wings. Orienting at the falcon, tazy sets the direction of running prey and easily find it.

Tazy serves for 8 – 9 years to the owner. In summer time, the dog is given camel milk what enhance the speed and is dressed in special cloth in winter to protect from cold. The observations of falcon and dog behaviour instigated Ata Eyeberdiyev to write down some interesting facts of animals’ life.

His first article about hunting birds of Turkmenistan was published in the middle of the 80s of the last century in «Turkmen Spark» newspaper. At the same time, in 1988, he had the debut of his publications outside Turkmenistan in Russian newspaper “Right Hunting”. From 2006 to 2008, Safari magazine issued 14 of his articles and editorial board of the magazine named the falconer from Ashgabat as one of the best authors who writes about hunting birds ant Turkmen greyhounds.

In 2014, Turkmen falconer was given floor in Ukrainian magazine “Hunting” and in 2015 annual German catalogue published three of his articles about predator birds. Around 70 articles were published in foreign and local press for almost 30 years.

The main idea of the article of Ata Eyeberdiyev is to popularize falcon hunting as well as stories about traditions of careful attitude to predator birds’ population.

The history of Turkmen falcon hunting begins in ancient time from forefather Oguzkhan and his sons. In VII century, he assigned special symbols – the tamga, picturing predator birds to 24 tribes. 5 of them were considered to be for khans and displayed golden eagle, peregrine, gyrfalcon, hawk and Saker falcon, which were used in hunting all the times.

However, the world saw Turkmen falconers only in the end of the XIX century of the photo. The first daguerreotype (the name of the photo on metal plates) is date 1890. It portrays a middle-aged man in traditional dress with his falcon. The interesting detail is that both man and the bird have piercing eyes as if they are able to read people’s thoughts. The picture was taken by French Paul Nadan at the International Agricultural Exhibition in Tashkent. This picture was found in the World Wide Web. This was the Internet that helped Ata Ahmedov, the great lover of history of Turkmen falcon hunters, to find this priceless picture.

The second picture dated 1921 – “Turkmen falconers visit Uzbek bird hunters” is depicted in the catalogue of London Museum “Human and Nature”. In 2009, the delegation of Turkmen falconers participated in the World Hunting Birds Festival. The cultural programme of the festival included the visit to museum where Ata found this photo.

The third photo is also from the 20s of the XX century. Personal portray of Turkmen greyhound tazy was taken in 1927 at the II All-Russian Hunter Dogs Exhibition organized by Moscow Hunting Association. The picture was published in “Hunting and Hunting culture” magazine in 1967. The magazine is kept in the Central Library of Turkmenistan where Ata Eyeberdiyev read the article about four-leg hunters’ assistants from different countries including about the role of Turkmen dogs in wild life hunting.

In the first year of their foundation, Turkmen falconers went to their first foreign business trip. The colleagues from Kazakhstan invited them to Astana for participation in International Hunting Birds Festival. In 2000, National Falconers Society of Turkmenistan was officially registered in International Association of Falcon Hunting and Protection of Hunting Birds in Amarillo (TX, USA).

This international association specializes in protection of ancient art of falcon hunting supporting the protection of predator birds and other animals in natural environment. Association helps their ecological and veterinary study, supports the breeding of rare predator birds for falcon hunting including peregrine, gyrfalcon, saker falcon and other species no matter what part of the world they are used.

In 2001, Paris held the meeting of International Association of Falcon Hunting and Protection of Hunting Birds where Chairman of National Falcon Society of Turkmenistan Ata Eyeberidyev made presentation of historical material on primordially traditional Turkmen hunting with birds. In 2013 in Denmark, the video about Turkmen falcon hunting (camera operator Ata Eyeberdiyev, composer Serdar Haydarov) was recongnized as one of the best among video presentations of International Falconers Festival.

Dovletmurad Orazkuliyev