BBC reported Svidensky's story about photographing teens learning the skill of hunting with hefty golden eagles and meeting Aksholpan. It's not an easy practice, and the Kazakhs are one of the few groups of people that hunt with the eagles. There are only about 400 falconers, and it's a lifelong profession. Most, if not all, of those 400 falconers are males.
Svidensky was taking photos for a story about boys learning falconry but started to wonder if any girls also joined in. He came across Aksholpan, and on his blog, Svidensky says, "I was amazed by her comfort and ease as she began handling the grand eagle for the first time in her life. She was fearlessly carrying it on her hand and caressing it somewhat joyfully."
She stepped into the role after her older brother, her father's eldest son, was drafted into the military. By traditional standards, he should have been the one to learn falconry. However, he's become an officer in the army and probably won't return. Aksholpan's father told Svidensky, "It’s been a while since I started thinking about training her instead of him, but I wouldn't dare do it unless she asks me to do it, and if she will? Next year you will come to the eagle festival and see her riding with the eagle in my place.”
At some point, she apparently asked to be trained.
Golden eagles weigh anywhere from 8-14 pounds. That is quite a bit to hold on your arm when you're a teenager, and the sheer force of the bird has to be a lot to handle. Aksholpan, you rock.
Photo by Asher Svidensky.