Outside of Almaty, in the northern part of the Tien Shan mountain range called Ile Alatau, sits Big Almaty Lake at 2,511 meters above sea level. It was formed after a number of earthquakes. It is a nature alpine reservoir and is the main source of drinking water for the region. Hence no swimming here. You are not allowed to even get close to the water which is watched by quite a few guards. The lake is very beautiful because of its milky blue color backed by snowy mountains. The air is crisp and fresh here and provides a nice quiet retreat from busy Almaty.
On the road to Big Almaty Lake, there is a bird refuge called Sunkar run by Kazakhstani-German orinthologist and falconer Pavel Pfander. I have always wanted to see the Kazakh golden eagle hunters in action and this is the closest thing to it in the area. Every day at 5pm (except on Mondays), there is a show with the birds of prey. You can also walk around the refuge and see all kinds of birds. Sunkar was started to protect the saker falcon that was becoming endangered because of habitat loss as well as being captured and sold to the Middle East as pets. There are around 400 birds here from 15 species including owls, eagles, hawks, and falcons, etc. Some find their forever home here because they can no longer survive if released into the wild. Others critically endangered species like the saker falcon and golden eagle are bred with the goal of being released back into the wild.
The Golden Eagle
Pavel Pfander and his golden eagle
The birds of prey wear a hood when training. The purpose of wearing a hood is to calm the bird because they are very visually oriented and can get overly excited. Also birds will not attempt to fly off when they cannot see.
The golden eagles in Central Asia are trained to catch foxes much larger than themselves. They are not strong enough to kill the foxes or wolves and instead are trained to only subdue the prey and wait for their handler to arrive.
The endangered saker falcon
The eagle owl in action
The cutest little 1-year-old owl
Not the typical vulture and they run super weird…
Next post will be on my trip out to the UNESCO Tamgaly petroglyph site. Stay tuned!
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