To Lauren McGough, it was something out of “The Lord of the Rings.” A dream. Nomadic herders train golden eagles to soar into the skies and catch game.
McGough made her dream come true when she went to Mongolia and mastered this art of hunting. She tells her story to Scott Pelley in the Mongolian steppe on the next edition of 60 Minutes, Sunday, October 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7:00 p.m. PT on CBS.
Lauren’s dream began thousands of miles away at home in Oklahoma. “I read a book on falconry. And it’s like the fire was lit. I just knew I had to do it,” she tells Pelley. “And, as I was researching, I went to the library, and I found this old book that had black and white photos of eagle hunters from Mongolia… And it just looked like the most incredible thing. And I thought, ‘I have to see it. I have to do it.'”
Her dad, a former military pilot, took her to Mongolia. There she met the hunters who rely on golden eagles to help them hunt as their ancestors did. They took her in and, eventually, she not only learned to catch, train and hunt with the eagles, she earned a PhD for her work with the hunters.
In the harsh environs of the Mongolian steppe, where few crops can grow, animals are the key to survival, domesticated and just as importantly, wild game. The eagles can see foxes and other mammals from high in the air and dive at speeds exceeding 100 mph. “They’re incredibly effective at killing, which is what they’re built for. They are a modern-day velociraptor, a perfect product of evolution,” says McGough.
The eagles are kept and cared for over several years while they hunt; then they are released back into the wild. If some consider the training and captivity of this wild animal cruel, McGough tells Pelley, “I would encourage anybody that has doubts to go out with a falconer in this country or in the United States or anywhere. We only encourage their natural instincts.”
The golden eagles are not endangered, in fact, they are a hardy species abundant in the Northern Hemisphere and conservationists have little fear for their survival. The Kazakh eagle hunters on the Mongolian steppe are another matter. It is estimated there are only about 300 left. They appreciated the American woman’s keen interest in their livelihood.
One of the hunters interviewed by Pelley, Chukan, says McGough’s skills with the eagle are on par with his male colleagues. He and his brother, who trained McGough, welcomed her. “She came from a world far away. She had her mind set on learning to hunt with the eagle,” he says. “Her motivation came from deep in her heart. We just couldn’t say no.”
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