How to Feed Wild Hyenas in Harar, Ethiopia
Recognized as the fourth holiest city of Islam, Harar is an ancient destination tucked away in eastern Ethiopia, near the Somalian border. Inhabited for over 7,000 years, this enigmatic city cherishes its archaic traditions, where locals still reside in rustic homes fortified by medieval stone walls and engage in the nightly ritual of feeding wild hyenas.
The origin of this unique practice dates back to the 19th Century during a famine, when Harar’s Sufi muslims started feeding wild hyenas to reduce the risk of nocturnal attacks on children. The success of this ritual made it a nightly occurrence just beyond the city walls, where visitors can now witness this fascinating interaction between the locals and these primal creatures
In Harar, two distinct Hyena feeding sites exist – one catering to tourists, known as the Christian site which commences its ritual at 6:30 pm, while the other, the authentic Islamic site, follows suit at 7:30 pm.
Eager to make the most of our time in this ancient city, we deciding to visit both sites on the same night. Taking matters into our own hands, we arranged for a private driver to pick us up from our Adare guesthouse, ensuring a seamless journey to witness both feeding rituals. In total, the convenience came at a reasonable price of 700 birr, roughly $13.
Arriving at the Christian site just before 6:30pm, we found ourselves amidst a group of 11 other tourists, each accompanied by their guides. As the last to arrive and the only ones unguided, a sense of anticipation gripped us.
In the gathering twilight, several hyenas emerged from the shadows of the vast Ethiopian desert.
The Hyena Man took center stage, commencing the ritual by methodically feeding “camel sushi” to the hyenas, one-by-one. As the tension mounted, a few tourists were granted the rare opportunity to participate in the ritual, albeit in a highly controlled manner.
Beneath the surface, our sense of tension began to cool. The feeding ritual itself, felt orchestrated – only five hyenas were present, each displaying an unexpected level of docility for creatures considered wild and untamed. They moved with an uncanny grace, resembling trained show pigs more so than the fearsome, man-eating predators that had been conjured in our minds.
Within a mere 10 minutes, the feeding ritual came to an unexpectedly abrupt end, leaving a sense of anticlimax hanging in the air. The Hyena Man wasted no time in collecting the fee, a previously agreed-upon 200 birr per person. However, what followed left us disheartened. Instead of accepting the agreed-upon payment, he audaciously demanded five times the amount, a shocking 2,000 birr.
Despite the unsettling situation, we held firm to our principles, determined to honor our commitment to pay the previously agreed amount. With a mixture of frustration and defiance, we attempted to hand over the 400 birr. His response was laughter followed by a physical threat for the inflated sum.
Refusing to be coerced by this thug, I firmly pressed the 400 birr into his chest, allowing it to fall to the ground, and in a defiant act of frustration, I spat on the money. An uneasy silence ensued, until, to our surprise, the surrounding Ethiopians erupted into laughter, clearly recognizing the Hyena Man’s bluff.
Upon our return to the car, our driver shed light on the Hyena Man’s thug-life reputation. He revealed that this individual was notorious for exploiting independent tourists and attempting to bully them into parting with more money than they had initially agreed to pay.
Armed with this half-baked experience, we tried our best to approach the next stop, the Islamic site, with a sense of cautious optimism.
Greeted by a striking contrast to our previous experience, over 20 wild hyenas waited in the cloak of darkness for their food. Here, the Hyena Man seemed genuinely focused on the task at hand – feeding these magnificent creatures rather than engaging in a scripted spectacle for the benefit of tourists.
Gone was the feeling of contrivance; instead, we witnessed a genuine interaction between the Hyena Man and the wild predators. It was evident that the hyenas were respected and treated as the powerful and dangerous beings they truly were.
With only a handful of other tourists at the Islamic site, we were fortunate to have an up-close and personal encounter with the hyenas. Some of the bravest among us even dared to be mounted by these wild beasts!
Unlike the Christian site, where the hyenas were choreographed like a K-pop video, here they exhibited their true wild nature – displaying a healthy dose of bloodthirsty energy.
The untamed behavior of the hyenas warranted caution, and it was clear that these skilled predators were not to be underestimated. Keen on ensuring our safety, the Hyena Man wisely forbade anyone from feeding the hyenas independently at this point.
Unsatisfied by my initial encounter, an insatiable determination possessed me to fulfill my mission: to feed the hyenas with my own mouth. It had been the reason I journeyed all the way to Harar, and I damn sure wasn’t going to leave without achieving this daring feat.
Approaching the Hyena Man once again, I mimicked his actions, pointing at the stick he had used and then gesturing to myself. To my surprise, he understood my intent and nodded in agreement. Without hesitation, he handed me the saliva-coated stick. Against my better judgment, I decided not to clean it off, and bravely grasped the stick with my teeth.
As I knelt down, my heart pounding with adrenaline, the Hyena Man carefully placed a piece of bloody camel meat on the end of the stick.
With raw meat in hand, the Hyena Man continued to orchestrate this daring encounter. He dangled bloody meat near my shoulder and called out to a nearby hyena. In a heartbeat, the wild predator responded, swiftly swooping in with untamed hunger. The sight was both awe-inspiring and nerve-wracking as the hyena fiercely devoured the meat within seconds, its powerful jaws mere inches from my face.
I could feel the intensity of the moment, my heart pounding in my chest as the wild animal’s whiskers brushed against my skin. The proximity to such a magnificent yet primal force was an unforgettable experience, tinged with a mix of fear and fascination.
Feeding the hyenas in Harar, undeniably comes with inherent risks – we won’t sugarcoat it.
While most of these wild creatures have grown accustomed to human presence, they remain untamed and should be treated with profound respect. With jaw strength measuring a staggering 1,100 pounds per square inch (psi), far surpassing that of a lion at 650 psi, hyenas are indeed formidable predators, not to be mistaken for harmless lap dogs.
Even though attacks are unlikely during the hyena feeding ritual, it’s crucial to exercise caution and avoid provoking them. Their unpredictable nature means they are not like animals in a zoo – expect the unexpected, which means accident can and will happen.
it’s essential to remember the inherent wildness of these predators and approach the encounter with a healthy dose of respect and mindfulness for their power. Otherwise, you might just leave the feeding ritual without a face, who knows…
#1: Avoid the overly-touristic and grandiose Christian site. Save your time and money by just going to the authentic Islamic site instead (try to get there early, if you can).
#2: Book a guide and driver via your accommodation – don’t go the independent route as we did. For the best experience, go with a guide that can translate for you and that’ll make sure you get to the Islamic site on time – FYI, the feeding time changes nightly.
#3: While some online resources suggest that you can walk to the site, that’s completely idiotic and unsafe advice (unless you enjoy being robbed). Plus, you’ll most likely need the lights from your driver’s vehicle for added visibility when feeding the hyenas.
#4: Don’t book anything in advance – just arrange for a driver and guide when you show up in Harar, as it’ll be cheaper that way (remember to negotiate the price).
#5: When going to the Islamic feeding site, it’s a good idea to bring a long a headlamp and a basic first aid kit (in case of an incident with a hyena).
Yes, hyenas are predators. They are carnivorous animals and are known for their scavenging behavior, feeding on the remains of dead animals left behind by other predators. However, hyenas are also skilled hunters and are capable of taking down their prey, which typically includes small to medium-sized ungulates like gazelles, wildebeests, and zebras.
They are particularly adept at hunting in groups, using their strength, speed, and cooperation to overpower larger animals. Despite their reputation as scavengers, hyenas play a vital role in their ecosystems as both predators and scavengers, helping to maintain the balance of the food chain.
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No, hyenas are not related to dogs. Despite some superficial similarities in appearance, hyenas belong to a different biological family and are more closely related to cats than dogs. Hyenas belong to the family Hyaenidae, and there are four extant species: the spotted hyena, the brown hyena, the striped hyena, and the aardwolf.
Hyenas have unique features that set them apart from both dogs and cats. They have powerful jaws, a large head, and strong teeth designed for crushing bones. Additionally, hyenas have a unique social structure and communication system, which is different from both dogs and cats.
Hyenas produce a range of vocalizations, and their calls can vary depending on the species and the context of the communication. The most well-known sound associated with hyenas is their laughter-like vocalization, which is often described as a “whoop” or “giggle.” This vocalization is typically made by spotted hyenas and is used for various purposes, including social bonding and signaling alarm.
Other vocalizations made by hyenas include growls, whines, screams, and grunts. These sounds are used to communicate with other members of their clan, establish dominance or submission, indicate distress or excitement, and coordinate during hunts.
Overall, hyenas are highly vocal animals, and their varied calls play an essential role in their complex social interactions and communication within their groups.
Hyenas are best known for their distinctive vocalizations, particularly the famous “laugh” or whooping sound. This eerie and cackling call is often associated with hyenas and has been popularized in movies and documentaries. It serves as a means of communication within their social groups,
elping them coordinate during hunts and defend territories.
Additionally, hyenas are renowned for their role as scavengers in their ecosystems. They are highly skilled at finding and consuming carcasses, and their powerful jaws allow them to crush and digest bones, making them effective “clean-up crew” in the wild.
Hyenas’ complex social structure, matriarchal societies, and unique reproductive adaptations, such as the female’s pseudopenis, also contribute to their reputation as fascinating and enigmatic animals in the animal kingdom. Their behavior and characteristics make them subjects of interest for researchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike.
Hyenas are unique and fascinating creatures with several distinctive characteristics:
Ecological Niche: Hyenas are one of the few large carnivores that primarily function as scavengers rather than active hunters. They play a crucial role in their ecosystems by cleaning up carcasses and preventing the spread of diseases.
Social Structure: Hyenas live in complex and highly organized social groups called clans, which can consist of up to 80 individuals. Within the clans, there is a strict hierarchy, and females dominate over males. This social structure contributes to their success as a species.
Unique Vocalizations: Hyenas are known for their distinctive vocalizations, including the famous “laugh,” which is used for communication and can be heard from a significant distance.
Strong Jaws: Hyenas have incredibly powerful jaws with a bite force that allows them to crush bones, making them one of the most efficient scavengers in their environment.
Sexual Pseudopenis: Female spotted hyenas have a genital structure called a pseudopenis, which closely resembles the male’s reproductive organ. This unique adaptation makes it challenging to differentiate between the sexes and is thought to play a role in their social structure.
Matriarchal Society: Spotted hyenas have a matriarchal society, with females holding a dominant position in the clan. They are larger and more aggressive than males, leading to a higher social status.
Unique Reproductive Strategy: Female spotted hyenas give birth and mate through their pseudopenis, making their reproductive process unusual compared to most other mammals.
Advanced Hunting Skills: While hyenas are primarily scavengers, they are also skilled hunters and can take down large prey, such as wildebeest and zebras, using their powerful jaws and coordinated hunting tactics.
In summary, hyenas stand out as remarkable animals due to their scavenging behavior, complex social structure, vocalizations, powerful jaws, and unique reproductive adaptations. These characteristics contribute to their successful survival in their respective habitats.