The Hyena Man of Harar

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Harar is considered the fourth holy city in the Islamic world with over 80 mosques and 100 shrines.

Harar lies in eastern Ethiopia, an hours drive from Dire Dawa. Dire Dawa has an airport with direct flights an hours flying time from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Harar is famous for coffee and also the hyena man. Actually there are two hyena men. No one knows exactly why and how Harar was first blessed with a hyena man. Legend has it that the first hyena man started practicing during the great famine of the 1890s.

I paid 100 birr about £3 to a guide to watch one of the hyena men. No need in Harar to seek out a guide, a guide will certainly find you. The fee pays for the meat needed, the hyena man must feed the hyenas seven days a week regardless of paying customers. The guide took me to a spot just lying outside the city walls. After darkness had fallen a crowd assembled and illuminated the hyena man with car headlights.

The hyena man started by calling out to the wild hyenas. After a few minutes hyenas appeared timidly out from the shadows. Soon the hyenas were eating bones placed on the ground. With the hyenas gaining in confidence, next the hyena man placed a small stick in his mouth and placed a strip of meat over it. The hyena then jumped up and snatched the meat. This happened several times over the next minutes with four or five different hyenas. The hyena man also gains confidence and hyenas snatch pieces of meat direct from his mouth.

Next it is the turn of the crowd to volunteer. After a couple of Ethiopian ladies enjoy the ritual it is my turn. I kneel down and let the hyena man place a stick in my mouth, then cover it with a strip of meat. The hyena jumps up and snatches the meat. This happens several times over the next few minutes. One of the hyenas has blood over his strong jaws, but to watch the animals at close quarters is wonderful.

A truly beautiful mammal and a remarkable experience.

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