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Mon Jan 25, 2016, 11:16 PM

In A City That Welcomes Hyenas, An Anthropologist Makes Friends

In A City That Welcomes Hyenas, An Anthropologist Makes Friends

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Willi is the young male hyena who treated Marcus Baynes-Rock like a friend. (Marcus Baynes-Rock)
Imagine running with a pack of wild hyenas down the dark alleyways of an ancient city at night. That’s exactly what one Australian anthropologist did in Harar, Ethiopia – one of the few places on earth where the human residents invite wild hyenas to enter their habitat.

Marcus Baynes-Rock traveled to Harar and made friends with one young hyena. In his new book “Among the Bone Eaters,” he writes about the culture and his own transformation, from an academic into someone who, as they say in Harar, has “the blood of the hyena.”


Finding Friendship In The City Of Hyenas

December 30, 2015

In a place that welcomes hyenas after dark, an anthropologist ends up bonding with one of the fiercest predators on earth.

By Vicki Croke

Hyenas aren’t the most popular animals. In Western literature, they are depicted as giggling, cowardly, and dangerous. In almost all of Africa, where the formidable predators are known to bite people’s faces off, kill children, crunch bone like it’s popcorn, and disembowel antelope, they are downright loathed.

But there’s at least one place on the continent where hyenas are not only tolerated they are welcomed. It’s Harar, Ethiopia. Here, long ago, the inhabitants carved doorways into the 500-year-old stone wall that surrounds the old section of the city, to invite a nightly migration of wild hyenas that continues to this day.

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A crowded and holy place, Harar, Ethiopia, has developed a culture that is pro-hyena.
Video still courtesy of Marcus Baynes-Rock.
Padding in under cover of darkness, when most locals are asleep, spotted hyenas in groups, pairs, or on their own, enter through the waraba nudul or “hyena holes,” trotting across cobblestones, and gliding down sidewalks. To the people here, it’s part of life. A good part. One in which both humans and hyenas benefit, and one in which both species tend to play by an unwritten rule of etiquette—look but don’t touch.

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A “waraba nudul” or “hyena hole” in the town wall welcomes hyenas after dark.
Photo: Marcus Baynes-Rock.
The hyenas come in for handouts of meat scraps, which can draw paying tourists to the men who feed them. They pick through garbage at the dump, which helps keep the city tidy. And, it is said, these nocturnal creatures provide another, more spectral cleaning service—they are believed to devour the malingering bad spirits of dead people.


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