MY EXPERIENCE IN HAND-FEEDING THE HYENAS IN HARAR, ETHIOPIA

The motivation behind my most recent travels came from the tv documentary ‘Planet Earth’. I have always loved the series and dreamt about the opportunity to visit and explore each destination. One particular episode really caught my eye and instantly I knew that I HAD to do it, and that was an episode based in Harar in Ethiopia about a native man hand feeding wild Hyenas. After a lot of research and planning, my bags were packed and I was heading to Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is not only the oldest independent country in Africa but also the oldest in the world. I had set myself two main goals during my time in Ethiopia, firstly to backpack across the country and secondly to visit the hyenas in Harar. Harar is the capital of the Harari region of Ethiopia. The city of Harar is located on a hilltop in the eastern extension of the Ethiopian Highlands, about five hundred kilometres from Addis Ababa at an elevation of 1,885 meters.

Once I got to Harar, it didn’t take me long to learn all about Yusuf (whom I watched featured on Planet Earth). Yusuf has a close relationship with the hyenas, so you can imagine how excited and secure I felt.

After sunset the Hyena men would head out towards the edge of the city to the feeding spot, there are two spots for feeding, one being in the middle of nowhere and the other being at Flana Gate Slaughter House.

I arrived at the Slaughterhouse around 8 pm and watched the Hyena man call to the wild Hyenas in the ‘hyena dialect’ a mixture between English and Oromo, a unique and fascinating experience. The Hyena man has even given names to each of the hyenas which they seem to respond to.

hyena feeding

It took a few hours for the hyena man to call out the Hyenas, but it was an incredible experience to watch, he walked around the block calling on the wild hyenas to come to him. He would call to the hyenas with a basket of fresh meat from the butchers and they would answer him back, almost like pets. After a long 2 and a half hours of walking the hyenas around the block, they were ready for more human interaction, this time, from me.

I stood there watching in such amazement that I didn’t even realise he was calling me forward to hand-feed these animals. When I got closer, he asked me to kneel next to him, he held some meat above my head while the hyenas fed from his hand, just inches away from my face. I could feel the warm breath of the hyena, breathing down my neck and I can hardly express in words what I felt. But it was at this point that I felt the neck of a hyena rub against mine and for the first time I really appreciated the sheer power of these animals.

He handed me a fresh piece of meat, to feed the wild hyena from my hand. No stick like you may have seen others! Just my hand and this small piece of raw meat. Ahh, at last, the real reason I had come here, I was finally going to have the opportunity to do something I had longed to do. Of course, I was nervous, but I had to do it because I quickly reminded myself that unique opportunities only come around once in a lifetime. My first attempt didn’t go so well, mainly because I was so nervous, so nervous that I dropped the meat. Wouldn’t you after feeling a huge sense of power from these animals?

Nevertheless, I had to find the confidence and be the courageous man I have always been. I attempted for the second time and my second attempt was successful. I wasn’t as afraid this time, as I knew I had to hide my fear, especially when faced with these large and deadly animals. There were around seven hyenas nearby, but only three opted to come close enough to be fed. I would have loved to feed all of them, but the remaining four refused to comply and given that they are wild animals and could, cause serious injury or even death upon being provoked, the hyena man was wise enough not to prompt them to become violent by forcing them to come to him.

According to written records, hyenas have existed in Harar for over 500 years. Through extensive readings about hyenas in Harar, I discovered that the regular feeding of hyenas in this city did not start until the 1960s. This practice was initiated by a farmer who decided to feed the hyenas with fresh meat so that they didn’t invade his farms and attack his livestock.

Harar is presently a tourist hub for people who are interested in meeting and hand-feeding wild hyenas. Sometimes, the hyena men go as far as feeding the hyenas from their mouth just to wow the spectators. Tourists watch the show at a negotiable rate through a guide. However, recently the practice has been on a decline as a result of the reduced numbers of hyenas compared to many years ago.

Before heading off to Harar please remember these are wild animals and you do so at your own risk. Hyenas are the second largest land predators in Africa and have the most powerful jaws.

This is no game, these are wild animals and as tame as they may seem, precaution should be taken, Wild hyenas have been known to kill lions, ‘the King of the jungle’

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