German photographer Leo Thomas recently traveled to the Altai region in Western Mongolia to document the ancient art of eagle hunting. This traditional form of falconry has been practiced for thousands of years by a small group of nomads who train birds of prey to help hunt wild animals such as foxes and small hares.
While most eagle hunters today are male, Thomas had the opportunity to meet one of just ten eagle huntresses in Mongolia: Zamanbol, a member of a Kazakh nomad family who spends her weekdays in school in the city and her weekends training with her trusted eagle alongside her 26-year-old brother Barzabai.
Thomas captured stunning images of Zamanbol on horseback, dressed in handmade fur clothing, and emitting a free-spirited strength and unbreakable bond with her eagle. Through his lens, he also documented the beauty of the Altai region and the unique culture of the eagle hunters.
According to Thomas, his experience in Mongolia provided a stark contrast to his usual screen-bound work in Germany: “While he’s living in the outdoors surrounded by family, incredible nature and animals, I’m sitting more than 60% of my time in front of a screen. A pretty basic comparison, but it made me think.”
With approximately 300 remaining eagle keepers in Mongolia, the art of eagle hunting remains a valuable piece of the country’s cultural heritage, and Thomas’ photographs serve as a testament to the beauty and importance of this ancient tradition.