A visit to see the ‘Hyena men”, in the ancient walled city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia, is certainly one of the most remarkable and unique tourist experiences anywhere in Africa.
Over the past few decades, packs of wild hyenas, generally considered one of Africa’s most dangerous animals, have been fed with meat each evening just outside the city walls, and for a fee tourists are encouraged to watch and even participate.
How the practice originated is a matter of debate – some say that the hyenas were originally propitiated in order to protect the city from evil spirits (the hyena’s howls being the screams of the evil spirits as they are eaten by the animals), while others say locals started to feed the hyenas in order to prevent them attacking their livestock. Another theory is that the locals started feeding them during a period of famine and drought, when the hyenas started attacking the humans themselves in desperate measures to find food.
Some of the hyena men give each hyena a name they respond to, and call to them using a “hyena dialect”, a mixture of English and Oromo.
A fascinating book ‘Among the Bone-Eaters: Encounters with Hyenas in Harar’, by anthropologist Marcus Baynes-Rock, is well worth reading prior to any visit to Harar.
Local tour guide Hailu Gashaw, who can arrange visits to see the ‘Hyena men’ and other local attractions, is highly recommended (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Want more? In this episode Zay Harding travels by truck across one of Africa’s toughest and most spectacular countries: Ethiopia.