The Hyena Man – Harar, Ethiopia
by John Downey
What did I use to make this image? A handheld, Canon G11 at ISO 1600. No flash, no tripod. Just a lot of frames and anticipating scenes as they unfolded. Harar, Ethiopia is one of those places that is out of the way of more popular destinations, but it’s home to a great brewery, some historical landmarks and… The Hyena Man. Soon after sunset, he appears with basket of goat scraps (slaughterhouse wall is about four meters to the right of where I shot this image) and more than a dozen hyenas cautiously pad their way to him and lie down. Lights from a tourist’s SUV beam across a dirt parking area and illuminate the dogs.
Then the show begins, with the Hyena Man feeding scraps from his hands and mouth, sometimes prompting a collision of two large, spotted beasts at chest level. Most of this activity takes place without a sound from the hyenas, unless one agitates another to garner that infamous, deep, laughing yelp. Tourists participate as well and it’s no wonder no one has (reportedly) ever been bit – I attempted to get close to a few and they weren’t having any of me within a meter before they jumped up and moved away. We’re not talking Chihuauas here; some of these bubbas weigh close to 170lbs and have large craniums and canines fit to rip apart large pieces of meat from bone.