16 December 2012

Ethiopia: Hyena Show

Addis Abeba has more to learn from its sister city, Harrar, as far as taming wild hyenas is concerned. Every evening, when darkness falls at Shoa Ber in Harrar, "hyena shows" are unique tourist attractions.

A man sits with a parcel of bones ready to mouth-feed the herd of hyenas one by one, according to his roll calls.

The wild cats, uncharacteristically, advance forward to the showman and snatch their share. The mouth-to-mouth food sharing from a human being to a hyena may look scary but it is a strange phenomenon.

My Peace Corp friend, Oconner Clark, once said that the show was not a big deal. He could not say that again when he realised that the hyenas could put up a detrimental fight with lions only a few kilometers south of Harrar at a place known as Dawe Gobelle. The battle took over a week and the toll on both sides was significant. That fight was triggered by claims over territory according to the media coverage.

There was a time when Addis Abeba too had its share of a large number of hyenas found dead along theRasMekonnenRiverbed bordering the epicenter of the city, Piazza. But this time, the culprit was none other than a broken high voltage electric cable. The hyenas were said to have been used for screening the remains off mutton from sheep slaughtered there in a clandestine act.

Years ago, hyenas made nocturnal visits here, sparking the barking of dogs in the capital, their pestering noises reverberating amplified from village to village along the routes of the hyena passage. The wild cats, not only bark out loud, but often break into hilarity every time they make love during their mating season.

Hyena shows have been instrumental for earning a living for decades in Harrar. Perhaps their numbers too has been on the rise. But here in Addis Abeba, hyenas have been pushed away to the peripheries as a result of the expansion projects of the capital and its impacts on the safe heavens of the wild cats. The nocturnal sound is rarely heard. The hyena population seemed to be on the brink of extinction.

Lately, however, urban hyenas seem to be turning back to their instincts, being wilder than ever before. A couple of months ago, residents around theKetcheneHolySaviorCemeterycomplained about incidences of hyenas unearthing and eating corpuses. The concerned authorities had at the time expressed their concern and promised to take the necessary actions to protect corpuses. The actions to be taken are yet to be seen.

The wild beasts, however, are not to be fooled by simple rhetoric. The presumably timid beast standing about six feet, from head to toe, with dark gray and often heavily dotted skin and shorter hind legs is indeed a power to be reckoned with.

Its physical structure appears to be diminutive compared to its prey - the donkey. Other pack animals like mules or horses, dead or kicking, are also its favorite preys.

A heyna will chase a donkey in a race that may end up death-dealing, trying to bite and hold on to the stomach. The prey makes every effort to free itself from the strong jaws of the hyena by kicking back with its hind legs and jumping up frantically. This ceaseless motion of the donkey makes things simpler for the predator as it can stop holding down its grip while the donkey opens up its belly in the process.

That could probably explain why the Addis Abeba police had to involve wild life authorities in their latest effort at cracking down on the hyenas. As recent as last week, a small child was snatched away from the grips of her mother by a lurking wild cat in broad day light. That sad tale brought back old memories and scared residuals not far from the peacock park onBole Road.

Speculations run rampant and there seemed to be a general belief that the hyenas could raid other children as well unless something fundamental is done, and quickly. The Dawe Gobelle battle between hyenas and lions served as useful reference. This time, the authorities stood on their ground to prepare themselves for the unexpected offensive, armed nail and tooth, if need be.

But there were fewer options to pursue. The District police approached the Wild Life Authority for better professional assistance. The Authority, on its part, summoned expatriate hunters with hunting licences and requested them to crack down on these wild beasts.

The great hunt had started around 4:00pm in the afternoon. The gunners were able to count 10 bodies before day break, much to the relief of the residents of the village. The remaining hyenas may pick up their forces and show up unexpectedly to take revenge. The experts are said to be waiting on alert for the hovering attack. We may be able to learn about their spoils in due course.

It is about time to send a couple of new trainees down to the city of Harrar for knowledge transfer of taming wild cats and create new jobs here in Addis in the field of the "Hyena Show" to be held every evening at some place. Better still; it is also possible to bring to the capital some of the hyenas and their show men and quench the yearning of the young and old to see the mouth to mouth feeding dare devil actions.

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