Rabbit 3, Eagle 0

After the eagle jumped from Dalaihan’s arm and flew down the hill, we watched to see what prey it was after.  Only after the rabbit broke and ran a short distance from left to right did we even know what the eagle was pursuing.  The huge rabbit, perhaps the size of a dog, was far enough away so that when the eagle approached him, we could not tell how far apart they were.  When it seemed that they would collide and the eagle was making his final closing maneuvers, the rabbit broke and ran again.  I was surprised that the he did not run away from the eagle but instead ran towards the eagle in an uphill direction at a diagonal angle to our right.  The eagle quickly changed direction towards the right but the rabbit ran so fast and at the last second.  The eagle dropped his right wing and spun his turn to the right as hard as he could.  But it was too late; he had overshot the clever rabbit who now ran up the hill at full speed towards us.

The frustrated eagle landed and watched as the rabbit raced up the hill, first towards us, and then towards our left to the spine of the mountain.  The rabbit disappeared over the mountain edge and Dalaihan raced down the mountain to retrieve the eagle.  Alpamys and I raced to the left where the rabbit had disappeared.  I was highest up on the hill and as Alpamys approached the spine, I saw a second rabbit break and run.  I shot the photo below just after the eagle missed his mark, Dalaihan was retrieving the eagle, and the large rabbit ran off towards the left edge of the photo.

We called to Dalaihan and he and Baatar came up the hill after a short time.  We looked again for the large rabbit and saw him again and this time he ran all the way up the mountain and disappeared over the summit at the top.

Dalaihan found the rabbit’s tracks and soon the four of us were tracking him up the tall mountain.  The tracks went all the way to the top and disappeared over a rugged rocky area.  I was in the rear of the pack and as soon as the other men passed the first group of horses, I saw the rabbit break and run back down the hill.  This rabbit was clever indeed; he hid behind a rock and waited for us to pass and then ran back downhill towards his hole after we had passed.

I called out to the men that the rabbit was running and they spun around just as it ran past me perhaps only 15′ away.  We pursued the rabbit down the hill until we had a good view and Dalaihan let the eagle fly.  The eagle was pursuing the rabbit when the rabbit again disappeared behind a mountain spine, but this time to the right.  Dalaihan rode straight down the mountain while Alpamys and I rode directly to the right in order to get a view of the eagle.

When we finally had the eagle in sight, he did not have the rabbit.  The smart hare had escaped again!  After a time, Dalaihan called off the search.  He commented that this was an old and wise rabbit and that out of respect, we should let him live to see another day.  We all agreed that this smart rabbit had put on a good show and that we should let him go.

It was at this time that I realized that I was no longer cold, no longer sore, no longer hungry.  The excitement of seeing the eagle and rabbit play out an age-old struggle of predator and prey was quite exciting.  All of the cold and pain in my body had vanished in this brief and exciting moment.  I know, I’ll get hate mail from my tree-hugger, vegetarian, and PETA friends, but hey, eagles eat rabbits every day.  Actually seeing the pursuit is exciting regardless of your views on hunting…

We took a break, drank some water, had a nature call, and then chatted a bit about the chase we had witnessed.  As we were spread out across the mountain, we had seen different things and we shared stories before continuing on our way, looking for more rabbits.  During the break, I shot a photo of our horses – the un-sung labor of this expedition.

Just as I had seen with the drug dog on the train at the Mongolian/Russian border, Dalaihan “trained” his eagle after the unsuccessful hunt.  The Mongolian police dog handler hid a drug pack on the train and let the dog smell it out in order to reinforce its previous training and to keep its skills fresh and honed.  Dalaihan did the same and exercised the eagle much like the drug dog.

Dalaihan put the eagle on a rock and then went down the mountain.  Once he was down the mountain but still within sight of the eagle, he pulled some fresh meat from his pouch and called to the eagle to come to him.  The eagle flew down the hill, flared out, and landed on Dalaihan’s arm in order to eat some fresh meat off of the bone that was presented to her.

At the end of that day’s hunt, we headed down the mountain towards the river where the lodge rests.  We passed a herd of yaks and then as we came through another pass, one of our horses started braying – they usually do this when they smell other horses.  And sure enough, around the next bend, I saw a large herd of horses on the hill.  There is nothing quite like a herd of wild horse; they are so majestic and powerful looking – and they look so free and untamed.


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