By Tom Mendelsohn @tom_mendelsohn

MAGNIFICENT hunting eagles soar through the skies of Western Mongolia in a spectacular show of their predatory talents

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An eagle hunter on the back of a double-humped Bactrian camel wows spectators

The statuesque birds are showcased as part of the Golden Eagle Festival which celebrates the ancient tradition of hunting with eagles.

The UNESCO World Heritage Event takes place every year on the first weekend of October, with 70 traditionally dressed eagle hunters riding into the arena to be judged on their traditional Kazakh costumes, their decorated horse harnesses and the skill of their eagles.

One of the festival judges isn't quite as generous as the others at the traditional event

The fur-clad men are representatives of just 360 nomads who still practice this 2,000-year-old tradition.

Each of them travelled to the Kazakh-populated province of Bayan-Ulgii from all over Western Mongolia to participate in the festivities.

Feeling peckish? A hunter treats his eagle to a tasty snack

The festival has taken place every year since 1999, when it was founded by the Berkut Association, a community group dedicated to preserving Kazakh traditions and the conservation of golden eagles.

Throughout the weekend, eagle hunters take part in various competitions, showcasing both their own skills and those of their eagles.

A young eagle hunter takes a much needed break at Western Mongolia's annual festival
An eagle hunter wows the judges as his bird returns to him

Traditional contests include Tenge Ily, where riders gallop through the arena, lurching from their horses to grab a coin from the ground, and Kukhbar, where the hunters play tug-of-war on horseback with a goatskin.

A popular traditional game is Kyz Khuar, where girls chase boys on horseback, whipping those whom they catch.

But the show-stealing events are those that test the talents of the eagles. 

A father and son team eagerly await their chance to impress

To determine how well an eagle responds to her hunter, each bird is carried high up a mountain. 

The bird’s hood is then removed and it takes off in response to its masters' call, and flies to him as he gallops through the arena. 

A focussed hunter dressed in a traditional outfit aims to impress the judges
Eagle-eyed: One of the hunters looks resplendent in its headgear

To determine how well an eagle responds to her hunter, each bird is carried high up a mountain. 

The bird’s hood is then removed and it takes off in response to its masters' call, and flies to him as he gallops through the arena. 

Another display of talents sees the eagles compete to catch a lure made of fox skin.

Ailish Casey from Cork in Ireland was honoured to attend the festival earlier this month.

The 28-year-old said: “It was a privilege to see this ancient tradition taking place before my eyes.

 “Watching the hunters clad in furs and embroidered velvet, holding their magnificent eagles aloft against the remote backdrop of barren earth and jagged mountains, was unlike anything else I’ve experienced."

Non-hunters can compete in activities including an Urianhai archery competition, horse races, and races on giant, shaggy-haired Bactrian camels. 

A highly-trained eagle swoops down to make a catch

Local handicraft merchants are also in attendance, selling their wares. Traditional Mongolian yurts are set up throughout the arena to provide both lunch and relief from the cold wind.

During the festival, the town of Ulgii hosts tourists from all over the world, many of whom have made the 40-hour bus journey along unpaved roads from Ulaanbaatar, the country's capital. 

Among the scenic Altai mountains, a mounted eagle hunter parades his prized bird

The local theatre hosts a folk performance on the first night, where guests are treated to traditional Kazakh music and dance, as well as the spectacle of khoomi, or Mongolian throat singing.

The weekend concludes with a ceremony wherein competitors are rewarded with medals and trophies for their victories throughout the festival. 

Traditionally a fox was released to be caught and killed by the eagles but the event was abolished after complaints from animal rights advocates.