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<p>Palani Mohan</p>
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Palani Mohan

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The Last of the Mongolian Eagle Hunters

In remote Mongolia, a few men continue the dying tradition of training golden eagles to hunt. Australian photographer Palani Mohan describes his project to document what remains of this centuries-old culture.


The isolated and inhospitable Altai Tavan Bogd National Park in Mongolia nestles against the borders of Russia, Kazakhstan and China. The country’s last remaining eagle hunters live around here, their nomadic lives unchanged for centuries.

The cadence of their year is governed by the seasons. Foxes, wolves and other animals are essential for food and clothing here, so when the game moves on, so do the hunters move their tented homes, called Gers, taking their golden eagles to more abundant hunting grounds.

Australian photojournalist Palani Mohan is documenting the lives of the eagle hunters with an increasing sense of urgency. He estimates  there are about 35 to 40 family groups left who still live this way, but the numbers are growing fewer each year.

“There are only a few of the true hunters alive; many keep eagles more as pets. Those hunters left are getting old. Each winter claims more of them while the young are drawn irresistibly to the cities and a different way of life,”  he says.

“For me it’s a fight against time,” Mohan says, though this ongoing documentary project is among the toughest work in his distinguished career. Temperatures drop so low, he says, his digital cameras fail to fire unless he warms the batteries under his arm, inserting then just before pressing the button.

Mohan is planning his next journey in April and intends to publish a book of his work.

Listen to his description of the golden eagle hunters on the Soundcloud above, and play the slideshow of an edited selection of his work.

You can see more on his website.

19 comments on this story
by Jeremy Smith

Wonderful work. Well done to TGM for showing it to the world.

January 30, 2013 @ 11:24am
by Eric

Stunning photoessay!

January 30, 2013 @ 11:29am
by Nat

What beautiful photographs and what a remarkable culture. Thank you to Palani and The Global Mail.

January 30, 2013 @ 11:37am
by Rodrigo

Amazing history and wondeful pictures!

Congratulations to the author and the website

January 31, 2013 @ 6:40am
by Jim

Stunningly beautiful photography and a wonderful story. Keep the fabulous stories coming TGM.

January 31, 2013 @ 6:59pm
by M

Sensational portraits.

February 12, 2013 @ 6:54pm
by Rose

This was amazing and beautiful. I'm not sure if this is the right place to post this but I am completely stunned by the quality of this site and every article I've read. Keep it up!

February 16, 2013 @ 8:04pm
by john

Beautiful. Trying to figure out if that picture of two framed portraits is mounted on a rug or a fabric wall. The patterns are absolutely beautiful

February 19, 2013 @ 4:31am
by James

It is so sad that this magnificent culture that has existed for centuries should come to an end. A culture that has endured, famine, war, purges should just die quietly in the night, buried under the snow

February 24, 2013 @ 2:26pm
by Phil

Incredible journalism and photography if only these type of stories dominated our media landscape...... The faces of these people are art in themselves. Thank you Palani for bringing this to us!

February 24, 2013 @ 10:15pm
by Gelvan Tullibole III

Why don't some of you offer to swap places with their youngsters who are so eager to leave and thus maintain the tradition?

February 25, 2013 @ 7:25am
by Ron

Fantastic textural photographs, and humanity to boot!

March 4, 2013 @ 8:12pm
by Peter Hannam

Beautiful pictures. Many years ago I interviewed some of the hunters and photographed them with their eagles. Interesting aside is that most (if not all) are ethnic Kazakhs (as some of these pictures show) rather than Mongols. Many of the Kazakhs were leaving Mongolia for Kazakhstan...which they can't quite reach directly but have to go through China or Russia to resettle. The eagles are caught and tamed and later released, so they end their lives free (although how they adjust might be another issue worth investigating). Anyway, it's a spectacular area and a remarkable human-bird relationship. Can't wait for the book!

March 18, 2013 @ 4:37pm
by Kathryn

Breath-taking! Congratulations. And yes, a little heart-wrenching too, to see such a magnificent culture most likely in its dying days.

June 16, 2013 @ 8:19pm
by Jayne

I have travelled to Mongolia also, to visit Mongolian friends, but wasn't fortunate enough to visit this remote outstanding area. I did however attend a photographic exhibition presented by a National Geographic photographer who had been traveling to this same area for over 20 years recording the life stories of the mainly Kazakh people. Congratulations Palani on your work and the enormous effort required to bring this story to the world. Keep up your good work. I agree with Kathryn's comments above.

July 7, 2013 @ 9:43am
by Mitch

Brilliant photography!!!
I absolutely agree with you that black and white gives you the best affect because it emphasises the troubles they've been through.

August 19, 2013 @ 9:23pm
Show previous 16 comments
by Matt

Stunning and brilliant Photograhpy Polani. I look forward to your book. Best wishes.

September 7, 2013 @ 12:34pm
by Jenny

What a fabulous way of documenting the last of the Mongolian Eagle Hunters, the audio is very interesting and well done, and the photography is stunning indeed. Totally enjoyed.

September 17, 2013 @ 1:44pm
by John

Palani: This is the sort of story that doesn't get run elsewhere. A perfect example of why TGM's quality long-form journalism and phto essays need to keep happening. Over more than 2 decades, your work just keeps bringing the world important new visual insights. Wonderful!

January 31, 2014 @ 10:01pm
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