Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Hyenas of Harar

Michael - Thursday

I thought I knew quite a bit about hyenas. I’ve always liked them, feeling that they get a bum rap as cowardly, slinking scavengers. Scavengers they certainly are. They are happy to eat anything that is, or once was, flesh and bone. Especially bone. Their jaws can crunch them to powder, and their stomachs can digest and dissolve the calcium in strong acids. It's easy to recognize their feces as they appear white or grey from the calcium.

However, the Spotted Hyena is primarily a predator.

All the better to eat you with!
I’ve spent a night in the Kalahari following a group of seven of them. They seem to tirelessly cover the veld just loping along until one catches a scent, and then they suddenly all turn and race off in the same direction. During that night they had a go at an eland—that proved too much for them, chased a lioness up an acacia and circled the base with their tails up like dogs around a treed cat, and eventually pulled down a wildebeest.

Taking on a Gemsbok at night
And a lioness
In Botswana, Stan and I witnessed a much larger pack pull down a wildebeest and completely consume it over a period of a few hours. Everything is eaten except the horns and hooves. Watching that was what sparked the idea of destroying a body that way for the perfect murder, and eventually led to our first novel, A Carrion Death.

Surprisingly, Spotted Hyenas have a reputation for making good pets. They socialize easily with people, but while they are easy to house train, they have a strong scent which they use to mark their territories. Not ideal. At Ingwelala Game Reserve (where Stan has a bungalow), they used to come all through the camp at night and often chose to lie near the camp fire and watch the cooking like dogs. They would patrol the camp all night looking for scraps and company. Since giving them the former was strictly forbidden, they eventually became less keen on the latter.

What I didn’t know until I picked up an article from Reuters this week was that there is a city where they have become welcome nightly visitors. Although they are totally wild—in the sense that they live outside in the surrounding bush and come and go exactly as they please, they come through the city to clean up, accept offerings, be admired by tourists, and socialize with their favorite people—the ones who feed them (who are designated by the city).

Harar with the surrounding wall

The ancient city wall
Shewaber gate
The city itself is interesting. Situated in eastern Ethiopia near Somalia and the horn of Africa, it was established as a walled city in 1551 and is one of the earliest Muslim centers of importance, supposedly fourth after Mecca. Now about a quarter of a million people live in the city and surrounds. And beyond that, the hyenas live.

It’s worth reading the full piece from Reuters HERE, but here’s a taste (so to speak) of the hyenas and their friends.
'Hyena man' with a friend
Don't try this at home...
Sharing is caring.
So now I know something else about hyenas...

Murder Is Everywhere
Author Recognitions and Events


Murder in Saint Germain, Aimée Leduc’s next investigation, launched June 6.


              My next Hiro Hattori mystery, Betrayal at Iga, releases on July 11 from Seventh Street Books. 

          The next Detective Kubu mystery, Dying to Live, releases in the UK on July 12 from Orenda books.


  1. Michael, fascinating, especially the city of Harar. What a place, with or without hyenas. I prefer without, I am sorry to say. I can't bring myself to like hyenas. Of all the animals I have seen, they are the only ones that totally repel me. Stan has tried to disabuse me of this attitude. No dice. One glance and my whole body shudders.

  2. Wow. I would NOT like to meet them in a dark alley (or jungle). Impressive. Scary. Amazing. I always thought of hyenas as being smaller than that. Every day, learn something new...

  3. I can't believe I'm agreeing with EvKa on something! Yes, I never realized how large hyenas can be. I always thought of them as coyote size. As for feeding them, I'd never want to disappoint them once they got used to a free handout...otherwise it may be free hand off.

  4. Do they have the strongest jaws on the planet? Respect! I presume they are in no danger of extinction and that their numbers are healthy?

  5. They are remarkable animals! No, I think the crocodile has the highest bite strength per unit area. But the hyenas may be number two but they try harder...
    Jeff has a good point. Taking off a human arm would be no problem at all.