Sunday, February 24, 2013

Hyena Love

Last night I fed a wild hyena rotten camel meat from a 4 inch long stick, and then again out of a little basket which he nearly got his head stuck in. !!!!! It was pretty much the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.

Here in Harar, 2 different "Hyena men" have established a truly bizarre ritual of nightly hyena feedings, just outside the ancient city walls. It isn't entirely clear when or why they began doing this, but unlike some other places in Eastern Ethiopia (Dire Dawa, for example), locals are never killed by hyenas in Harar and it is thought it is because they are happily well fed. Apparently there exists an old myth of leaving bowls of porridge out for the creatures, so that babies and livestock wouldn't be targeted - a sort of spotted scavenger goldilocks tale; regardless, here in Harar exists probably the only chance in the world to go nose to snout with Africa's second largest predator, feel its breath in your face, and not get yourself killed (Hyenas having the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom, capable of crushing skulls in a single chomp.)

It began at dusk with the Hyena man sitting on a rock overlooking the valley, and calling out for his misfit friends...minutes later I found myself watching in astonishment as this amazing, awkward creature skuttled out of the shadows, green eyes blazing and silly grin smirking, bobbing up and down up the path, while small children watched from nearby, and stray cats took little notice. It actually seemed like he was rather shy, and hid out in the dumpster for a bit, until he smelled the basket of meat and skurried over towards us.

After an hour or so, (and after a whole gaggle of American army troops had thankfully had their fill of guffawing and ogling and had left), I was able to crouch down and feed one myself, as several other Hyenas looked enviously on. A friendly dutchman happened to take a picture of the basket feeding portion of the evening (many of the other photos didn't turn out, it being dark out and all), and it is truly the greatest photo of me EVER taken and I am eager to get back to Addis Ababa (where there exists wifi), and uploaded it from my laptop. So cool. Admittedly, I was slightly terrified at first...just because these creatures are used to the feedings and generally behave themselves like a pleasantly well-fed dog, doesnt mean they arent completely wild animals, and really, I have never been within inches of a wild predator before. Unlike some of the Americans who seem to have an invincibility complex ("I'm gonna feed that bastard with my BARE HANDS" etc etc), I am well versed in things going wrong (see: the sprained ankle incident, the malaria test), and as romantic and Rimbaud-esque as it might sound to be killed by a Hyena in Harar, I didn't particularly want to have to come to such ends.

It may sound ridiculous, but Hyenas have been one of my favourite animals for years, so this feels like a life goal accomplished, haha. Kneeling down and giving sour raw meat to a Hyena. What insanity.

I might just have to go back again tonight...

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