Hyena Man in Harar: Feeding Hyenas in Ethiopia
I purposely came to Harar just to feed the hyenas. This should not be the only reason to come here but was well worth the detour. By no means is this an intended tourist attraction. The Hyenas will be fed regardless if anyone shows up. I should also add that I do not place this activity under the umbrella of animal cruelty. The hyenas are not locked up and show up out of their own free will. This activity is still dangerous. There is no armed response. No medical team on hand. It was a risk I took, a risk I take every single day entering foreign countries.
How to find the Hyeana Man in Harar
You can either hire a guide to take you there or you can make your own way. I would not worry about finding a guide. They will find you. There are very few tourists in Harar and you will be approached and ask if you would like to hire their services. For the Hyena man, the only reason I would recommend a guide is to take photos for you. Other than that it is not necessary.
There are two feeding locations. One near the West gate and another at the North gate. I have been informed the site at the North gate is not as good as the West Gate. This is because the North gate site is located near a highway and not as many hyenas will show up. If you stay for two nights you can go to both sites. You can ask any local and they will tell you where to walk if you wish to do so. Due to some recently reported violence, I took a bajet. Your driver will wait for you and drop you off anywhere you would like afterward.
How much will the experience cost
A guide may quote you a different price. All up it had cost me 300 Bir/$12. I had paid a 100 Bir to the Hyena man, 100 Bir to the driver and 100 Bir to the guide. It will only cost 100 Bir if you decide to walk and not take a guide. There is no arena or building. It is not a Seaworld experience or a Zoo experience. There is no big corporation behind this trying to profit. Let’s just hope it will stay that way!
What was it like?
It was exhilarating and scary. But after the first 30 seconds, I was calm again. I was the first one to go up and had no idea what to expect. The scariest moments were at the start when the Hyena man would hold the meat inches away from my face. The Hyena would grab the meat fiercely. You could smell the rotten meat, see the full extent of their skull crushing jaw and their fierce teeth. I developed an immense respect for them and would never try this anywhere else.
You can watch my entire experience in this video!
Where does the Hyena man originate from
According to several articles, I read online this happened by pure coincidence from family tradition. It is rumored to have been around for centuries. Even the city walls of Harar has entry points large enough for hyenas to come in at night and clean up the streets. Today Abbas Yusuf known as the hyena man has been feeding the hyenas since he was 10. His father initially fed them scraps so they would not harm his livestock. When they were struggling financially he stopped but the hyenas then tried to claw their way into the hut. For the past 50 years, there has been only one incident where two children were killed.
The Hyena Man today
It is a significant part of Harar culture today. Each year there is a festival. It is believed that the Hyeanas can foresee the future. The hyenas will be given porridge cakes. If they eat all of the porridge it is believed it will be a fruitful year and no one will be injured. If they refuse the porridge it is believed the country will have bad luck. This ceremony takes place on Mawlid the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. This was whilst I was visiting Harar.
What is a Hyena
I have come across these creatures several times traveling through Africa. It was only this moment that they really wowed me. Prior to this, I was more keen on lions and cheetahs. Now I have a completely different outlook. In 2015 I went with my family to Botswana. At night they would circle our campsite. We were never afraid of them and would never get this close and personal with them. Their jaw is still capable of crushing your skull. We would constantly chase them away. Since they are scavengers once we would retreat to bed they will scour the campsite for any leftovers. The rubbish bin would be a metal cage connected to a chain. My uncle had his night vision camera set up and recorded a Hyena dragging the cage and a generator as well.
Spotted hyenas are the type that would kill 95% of the food they eat. The scavengers are striped hyenas. Hence it is strange that these spotted hyenas have been trained so well. They have the most advanced social skills out of all three types of hyenas according to recent studies. They have a distinct laughing noise that they make. This happens when they are frustrated, excited or in fear. Hyenas are not pets and should not be treated as such. The people of Harar have found a way to live with the hyenas that work.
Why is this special
There is no other place in the world you will find this. The behavior of these hyenas is consistent with an evolution theory. They have been fed for decades. There is no arena, cages or chains. The hyenas are free to roam around. They decide if they want to show up. You get to choose if you want to trust them. When I walked up to go sit down the last thing I said to myself was do not be afraid. Animals can sense fear. That is when I truly got to enjoy the experience.
If you are thinking about traveling to Ethiopia and want to do this feel free to contact me for more information. Also keep an eye out for my post on visiting Harar, Ethiopia.
If you have already experienced this and have some feedback I would love to hear it. Happy travels!
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