The Story of the Hyena Man
Hyenas are typically aggressive animals who have been known to kill people, but on the outskirts of Harar, Yusuf has nonetheless established a special bond with the animals that allows him to sit in their midst with perfect ease.
Far from behaving like vicious, depraved scavengers who demolish carcasses in a cackling frenzy - the prevailing view of hyenas in many cultures - they obediently wait their turn for the meat and then politely pluck it from Yusuf’s stick.
Often they even clamber over Yusuf, in a playful dog-like manner, to get to the scraps.
Yusuf, who took over the Hyena Man role from his retired father, is in fact building on an even longer tradition in Harar of peaceful co-existence with the hyenas.
For centuries, people in Harar have been deterring hyenas from attacking humans and livestock by ensuring that they don’t get too hungry. Holes were built in the city’s venerable walls and meat fed through them.
Nowadays, the hyenas also have free rein over the scraps that come from the city’s landfill. This strategy works well, while hyenas sometimes attack people in neighbouring villages, such occurrences are believed not to have occurred in Harar for over 200 years.
This tradition has now become entwined with Islamic practice: on the tenth day of the first month of the Islamic calendar and related to the festival of Al Ashura, locals feed bowls of porridge to the hyenas in special shrines.
If the hyenas eat the porridge, it is considered to be a sign of good fortune.
Yusuf’s bond with the hyenas is such that he has developed a special dialect to communicate with them and has special names for each animal. Incredibly, the hyenas have on at least one occasion even led Yusuf back to their den, where hyena cubs were living, demonstrating a very trusting relationship.
Even if somewhat unsettling to watch, there is something very endearing about seeing him feed, interact with and almost domesticate these wild and often feared animals. If you push 100 Birr his way, he'll even show you how to do it yourself.
Despite the many interesting historic attractions in Harar, this unique event is the main draw for most visitors - and for good reason.
Include Harar in these trips
Highlights of the North and South
The classic northern trail extends south into the Omo Valley, passing through the Rift Valley Lakes and highland peaks of the Bale Mountains. A once in a lifetime adventure combining the very best that Ethiopia has to offer.…
- 20 Days
This classic route is perfect if you're looking for an introduction to Ethiopia, but don't have a lot of time. The focus is on the historic cities, monuments, and culture of northern Ethiopia, with plenty of wildlife and vistas along…
- 6 Days
Historic Towns of Ethiopia
Every city in Ethiopia has a story to tell. In under 10 days, discover some of Ethiopia's most important towns, each different from the last in so many ways.…
- 9 Days
Historic North Circuit
Explore the Simien Mountains from a luxury lodge perched high in the escarpment, discover the architectural remains of ancient civilisations, and watch the sun set over the sandstone cliffs of Tigray. The Historic North Circuit is a flagship itinerary in…
- 12 Days
Peaks and Plateaus of Ethiopia
Community trekking in Wollo and Tigray and hiking through the Simien Mountains National Park highlight the staggering natural beauty of Ethiopia. Tours of the ancient cities of Bahir Dar, Lalibela, Gondar and Axum play supporting roles.…
- 12 Days
Historic North and Luxury Lodges
Experience Ethiopia's northern circuit in style. Explore the incredible highland scenery, visit ancient monuments, discover unique cultural traditions, and break up your journey at luxury lodges set amongst incredible backdrops.…
- 12 Days
Historic North Circuit and Community Trekking
Fusing history, culture, landscapes and wildlife along a perfectly paced circuit, this trip is a synthesis of the very best experiences on offer in Ethiopia’s northern highlands. Explorations of the ancient cities Axum, Gondar, Bahir Dar and Lalibela are broken…
- 12 Days
Simien Mountains and Northern History
This trip packs in a myriad of history, culture and some of the best scenery in Africa. Explore the palaces of Gondar, the world-famous rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, and the sweeping plateaus of the Simien Mountains. Leave enough time either…
- 7 Days
Community Trekking and the Danakil Depression
A true adventure across the northernmost reaches of Ethiopia. Experience community trekking on the plateaus of Tigray, where horizons stretch for miles, distant mountain peaks morph into hazy silhouettes lit by the evening sun, and pockets of light and shadow…
- 11 Days
Community Trekking in Ethiopia
Our community trekking routes are among our favourite experiences in Ethiopia. Offering a unique insight into rural Ethiopia through trails off-the-beaten-track, we're yet to find anyone who isn't blown away by the beauty of the rolling hills of Lalibela, the…
- 15 Days