A man commands a falcon to hunt a pheasant in Lijiang, Yunnan Province. (Photo/ Yang Fan)
What has been fascinating for Naxi men? What has made them so obsessed that they ignore the return after investment? The answer is falconry.
Naxi ethnic group is the descendants of ancient Qiang people who migrated far from Northwestern China to Lijiang. The customs of falconry were also brought to the plateau and have been carried on for hundreds of years consistently. Today, capturing eagles are flourishing in the city and the number of eagle fanciers exceeds one thousand.
Falconry is costly, and a fine eagle is worth of a cattle. Plus the costs of training and feeding, it is definitely a big expense to raise a market-value eagle.
Li Shi, a veteran falconer in Lijiang, said Dayan Old Town is a main market for the falconry culture since long ago. Merchant princes in the 1930s and 1940s were generous enough to buy good eagles every year and delegate to someone else for raising and training.
An eagle, with good appearance, can be sold at a price of 5,500 yuan, if it is less than one year old. Besides, it is time-and-energy-taking to train an eyas. Eagles are fed with beef, about 0.7 to 0.8 kilogram a day, which is money-consuming.
How to identify a good falcon?
The best falcon is female yet born in that very year, and the male eagle born in the same year is in the second place. A female eagle looks bigger than a male one, and is qualified with stronger hunting skills. The younger eagles are more priced than senior ones as senior eagles are not docile enough.
It is the feather and the eye that tells the born year of an eagle. The older it is, the whiter its abdominal features and the blusher the eyes are.
The key to tame an eagle is to make it acquainted with the trainer, which may help fade its natural wildness. Several weeks later, it may be able to eat on the palm of a trainer and cooperate with his command. "The main secret is to control it with food."said Yang. Docile enough, it can be freed to sky to check its abilities. However, some untamed eagles may fly away once they are released.
A pheasant was captured. (Photo/ Yang Fan)
Eagle hunters' story
Yang Yongzhong, 45 years old, has played with the eagles since he was 17 years old. He said once a man falls in love with eagles, he can never give up.
As an experienced eagle hunter in Lijiang, Yang has represented Lijiang to participate in a global falconry conference held in Britain. Both his father and grandfathers were crazy for eagles.
"Young people were not encouraged to spend time on eagles, or they would be regarded as idlers. When I was in a relationship with my wife, her mother was reluctant to our marriage. Though I finally married my wife, I was not accepted by her mother even during her last days. My mother-in-law never talked with me before." said Yang.
Yang trains goshawks only, since they are born hunters with fast flying abilities and can capture animals weighing 4 times of itself. The eyesight of an eagle is 8 times of human beings’, and can accurately locate a mouse from the sky. Its sharp spikes can easily pierce human’s palms. People may feel the sense of conquest once tamed a bird of prey.