The following is a translation of an interview with Aisholpan Nurgaiv, and her parents. The article was in Udriin Sonin (english Daily News), one of Mongolia's largest and most reputable national newspaper, January 21, 2016. Translation was kindly performed voluntarily by Anonymous and Ariunbold Dorjsembe with English editing by Meghan Fitz-James (helper). Two translators were used in order to cross-reference and ensure most accurate translation. The writer of the article was Yanjmaa Batsukh.
13 year old girl N. Aisholpan (helper's note: now almost 15) who is known as "the eagle huntress" is going to the USA to attend the international documentary film festival called Sundance. The documentary about her called "The Eagle Huntress" is going to premiere during the festival. Member of Parliament and head of the Bayan-Ulgii aimag people's union, A. Bakei, met Aisholpan and her parents to congratulate her on her achievements. The eagle huntress wore a white fox fur hat. Her father explained that white and black foxes are rare and are considered to bring good luck. N. Aisholpan was shy and kept almost silent during the interview. She often replied to questions with a simple 'yes or no', so her father, R. Nutgaijav, and her mother, K. Almagul, helped us a little. Her father explained her name means Morning Star (helper's note: Ai=Moon and sholpan=Venus or bright. Venus situated near the moon in the morning is thus considered the Morning Star). Her father said that thanks to the eagle he has visited the government house ("Gray House") many times. Aisholpan was selected as the "Best Pupil" of the year in Bayan Ulgii (a yearly award of excellence for students who excel in academics, singing, dancing, music or sports). It is not an easy task to hold an eagle on one's hand and ride a horse but she does it well. Her teachers advised her to join the wrestling club because she is strong.
Aisholpan, tell us about yourself?
My name is Aisholpan. I am studying in the 9th grade at a Mongolian Turkish joint high school in Bayan Ulgii aimag. My home is in Altantsogts, Bayan Ulgii aimag. I have an older brother and two younger siblings.
(to father): I thought you had no male children since you trained your 13 year old girl to be an eagle huntress. Is that so?
(father) I am an eagle hunter through several generations. My father and his father were eagle hunters too. And my oldest son is also an eagle hunter. That's why my second child, Aisholpan, was in love with eagle hunting and wanted to be eagle huntress and I encouraged her to do so.
(to father) Is there any case where someone else trained girls to hunt with an eagle? (Translator noted that the interviewer just asked "is there any case" with no caveats. The father was not asked whether in his family or extended family or community).
(father) Aisholpan is the only girl. She was raised with eagles from a young age. (Translator's note: the father likely means that to his knowledge Aisholpan is the only girl).
Aisholpan, tell me about the eagle in this picture?
(Aisholpan) The eagles are caught from their nest and trained when they are baby eagles. The eagle in the photo is called 'White Eyes'. (Helper's note: elsewhere in media the name of her eagle is given as 'White Wings').
(father) My daughter took first place among the 75 eagle hunters during the eagle festival in Bayan Ulgii (helper's note: October 2014). It is not easy to take first place. She was able to call her eagle and have it sit on her hand within 5 seconds and when she was dragging bait (fox skin) behind her horse at a gallop. Only experienced trainers (called shirga) can do it. I also used to take first place in the Eagle Festival. When the eagle gets very accustomed to its owner, it will fly quickly to sit on the owner's hand.
What is the life expectancy of an eagle? How long does it survive? And how long does it hunt?
After about 5 or 6 years the eagles are released to nature. When they reach breeding age, we release them.
Aisholpan, what (school) subjects do you like?
(Aisholpan) English, Turkish,Mongolian and sports.
What do you want be when you grow up?
(Aisholpan) A doctor.
How is your schooling going? Is it good?
Aisholpan nods yes.
When do you train your eagles and practice eagle hunting?
Starting from October, in wintertime.
Aishoplan, what animals have you caught with your eagle?
(Aisholpan) Rabbit, fox, and wild cat.
Your friends must be proud of your bravery?
(Aisholpan) Yes. My 9 year old brother is also learning how to hunt with eagles.
I heard that you have been to many places since you started hunting with eagles. They say you have been Arabia too?
(Aisholpan) Yes. I went there with my dad. We stayed in a 5 star hotel. I bought jewellery for my mom.
Can you tell us about the filming?
It took 2 years. First we started by catching a baby eagle from her nest, then finished it during Eagle Festival.
(father)It first shows how we caught the baby eagle and how we train them. Then how it was during hunting and Nauzris festival, then the Eagle festival. NHK TV from Japan also did filming. It was the second filming. (Translator thinks here it is meant that Otto Bell's filming was second). And we are discussing about another film too.
You must have been paid for the filming?
Yes. The first contract was not that good (helper’s note: this is an understatement in my opinion). Then Mrs. Oyungerel helped us to renew and improve the contract when she was a Minister.
What is the biggest animal that the eagle can catch?
The biggest would be a wolf. Then fox, rabbit, wild cat.
An eagle is a very huge and strong animal. How can a tiny girl hold the eagle on her hand?
An eagle weighs about 8 kilos. The weight is not important. She could get hurt by the eagle's claws.
Were you ever hurt by eagle claws?
(father) We use special glove to protect our arm. Sometimes we get wounds our arms, though they heal easily. The eagle's claws do not have any poison, so if you get scratched you will heal quickly.
Aisholpan, will you continue to hunt with eagles?
No, but I'm going to teach my younger siblings to hunt with an eagle.
(father) As she gets to be a women, she will lose her interest in hunting.
As a mother, how did you feel when she started hunting with eagles?
(mother) She started taking and interest when she was 10 years old. She used to take care of an eagle and liked to pet it. I didn't stop her since she liked it a lot and now she hunts with men as their equal.
Is there anything that you were not able to do because of cultural restrictions (prohibitions) for women?
(mother) I do whatever I want to do.
Have you ever thought of hunting with eagles?
(mother) No. I have never thought about doing it. But I let my children do whatever they want. I have never restricted them from what they wanted to do. There is no restriction in our religion or culture to prohibit girls from hunting with an eagle. If she wants to, and if she can handle it, then she can do it.
Kazakh girls are very good at embroidery. How good is Aishoplan?
It was her dad who taught her how to hunt eagles. How about mom, what did you teach her?
(mother) I teach our girls everything that is helpful to support the family. I taught her to sew her own clothes.
Do you have a lot of visitors?
Yes, many tourists visit our family to see Aisholpan hunt with an eagle and they like taking photos with Aisholpan.
What is Aisholpan's favorite food?
(mother) In summer we milk the animals and prepare a lot of diary products. She likes airag (fermented mare's milk) and other dairy products.
How many animals do you have?
(father) My father Rys is a great herder, who has over 1000 livestock. I have also been awarded best herder in the soum. And I like to train race horses as well.
How many eagles can a family own?
(father) It depends. In our (immediate) family, Aishoplan and I both have eagles, so there are two. And my father has his own eagles and my brother too. So we have a total of 8-9 eagles to attend the Eagle Festival.
Do you have any other hobbies aside from hunting with eagles?
(Aisholpan) I like reading and singing songs.
What holidays do you celebrate within your family?
(Aisholpan) Nauriz and the Eagle Festival.
Who do you wish your daughter be in the future?
(father) I wish her to study well and to become a good doctor and be supportive and caring to her parents.
How many people go out hunting with eagles? Some people were worried thinking she should not be a 13 year old girl hunting alone.
(father) She always goes hunting with me or with my relatives.