Harar in the east of Ethiopia is the place to go if you want to get yourself surrounded by hyena’s, staring at you like a potential meal. However as unbelievable as it may sound, the hyena’s here are friendly with the people living here.
It’s the only place in Ethiopia where these wild animals got used to people.
Hyena’s are being fed with scraps of meat by the locals in the evening and this became a habit and a tradition since feeding them would prevent them from attacking the livestock or children. This tradition exists for some decades now.
However these are still wild animals so you have to be careful at all times and never completely trust them like you would trust your own pet at home.
The Hyena man who feeds the hyena’s and calls them out whistling while waving a piece of meat in the air that they can smell from far, got bitten a few years ago and the man died in the hospital of the wounds in his face.
There have not been any incidents anymore since then and it’s still unclear why the Hyena’s suddenly bit the man who had fed them for years.
I came so far to the middle of nowhere, not to back down from it, I was ready to face them and to reset my mind to zero.
I wanted to feed the Hyena’s in the Harar, that was one of the things I really wanted to experience on my trip in Ethiopia. I like wild animals and if I can do a unique animal encounter somewhere in the world, I’m definitely excited to experience it.
The day I went to the Harar to meet the Hyena’s
There is no airport in Harar, the nearest airport is about 1 hour drive (traffic permitting) in the city of Dire Dawa which has connections to Djibouti and Addis Ababa.
I arrived in the late afternoon in Dire Dawa from a flight out of Lalibela to Addis Ababa where I had to change planes. My driver picked me up and because of heavy traffic and mountainous roads with alot of turns and twists the drive to Harar took longer than the 1 hour that I expected it to be. Almost 2 hours it took to arrive in Harar, it was already getting dark, so before going to the hotel and unload my stuff, I directly got to the spot where the Hyena’s are being fed by the Hyena man on the outskirts of the city, by the old city walls near the graveyard.
The guy throwing scraps at the Hyena’s sits on a little piece of wood from a chopped off tree with a bucket in front of him filled with all scraps of meat from a goat or sheep.
The Hyena’s smell the blood from the flesh and get easy triggered by it.
I sat next to the guy and he gave me a stick with a scrap of meat on it that I had to put in my mouth and the Hyena would snap it off from the stick and that’s when I got face to face with the Hyena, animal with what is said to have one of the most powerful bite force in their jaws, more than tigers and lions, which is crazy when you think about it.
Next challenge was to have the Hyena biting at a piece of meat dangling an inch from my face, it was crazy and I pulled my face back a little cause it was a bit to close and had my phone in my right hand to film a video of it and the result you can see on my youtube channel :
The Hyenas are distracted by the scraps of meat we gave them, so they are not really interested in attacking or biting you. Strange thing is I wasn’t nervous at all, it just looked to me like some dogs getting their meal, it didn’t really hit me that these were hyena’s and that wild animals always could become unpredictable. It was a great experience after all and I would do it again, special thanks to the hyena’s of the Harar.
What else is there in Harar ?
I visited several places in Harar with a local guide and it’s the best to do, for safety reasons and because a local can tell other people to back off and give you some peace if somebody would start to get a little too pushy asking for things.
My guide took pictures of me at the most important places and also took the pictures the evening before, with the hyena’s.
The narrow cobbled stone streets between the colorful old city walls is like a labyrinth walking through and has some great spots for picture opportunities.
I visited some important houses like the King Selassie house with museum and the Arthur Rimbaud house who was a French poet and lived here for several years.
The ceiling and walls in the house are painted with images that represents something out of Arthur Rimbaud’s life and on the top floor there are some colorful glasswindows, it’s a building that stands out compared to the others in the old town. Last house that I visited was a typical Ethiopian style house, the Rowda guest house with all kinds of decorations on the walls. It’s more typical in Harar to hang things like potts and plates up on the wall.
After Mecca , Jerusalem and Medina, the city of Harar is considered by Ethiopians as Islam’s fourth holiest city. The city is predominantly Muslim compared to other places in Ethiopia which are more Christian, but in Harar there is diversity of religion, in the city centre there is an orthodox church and next to the Juma mosque there is a Catholic church of Saint Mary.
My guide also showed me the street markets, the spice market and vegetable market at the Showa gate. After that we got to the old city’s meat market square where he got some camel meat from the butcher and threw it in the air for the eagles to scoop it in the air, really impressing how fast these birds are. They sit on the rooftops waiting to snatch the meat, video here below :