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Feeding Wild Hyenas In Harar Ethiopia (Truly Scary)

My first reaction when told about feeding wild hyenas in Harar was one of slight disbelief.

The last time I saw hyenas they were tearing an animal to pieces out on safari, so I was understandably a little curious about the practice of feeding wild hyenas with a stick of meat in my mouth.

It turns out the tradition of feeding wild hyenas in Harar dates back decades.

They used to leave food offerings in the hills so the hyenas wouldn’t eat the livestock in times of drought.

Someone had the bright idea of luring the hyenas to the old city of Harar and then feeding them meat as a tourist display.

Hyenas in Hara, Ethiopia

The hyenas became so used to being fed near the city that they started to roam the city streets at night, looking for scraps of meat thrown away.

It is somewhat a freaky feeling wandering the maze of streets in the old city and then bumping into a hyena walking down the opposite way.

So with a slight sense of trepidation I wandered to the place where the hyena men had gathered at around seven at night.



Feeding Hyenas in Harar

harar ethiopia hyenas

They call themselves “hyena men”. Brave guys who call out to the hyenas every night and then feed them with scraps of meat.

There are two spots where they feed them, the old and the new.

I was in the new spot and was the first to arrive. Waiting in the dark the first set of eyes shone in my direction, and then several more.

Hmmm, I thought, what the hell did you get yourself into this time Jonny?

Soon the hyena man was surrounded by several off them.

Hyena man in Harar

The hyenas had become so used to humans because of being fed every night, and as long as they are distracted by pieces of mea they will not attack you.

Having said all that they are still wild and have no problem tearing other animals to pieces up in the hills!

The fact they have the second strongest bite of any land animal (the crocodile is number one), one can be somewhat apprehensive, especially as I was the first there.

I did not get to see anyone else try it before me.

Gathering myself I handed my camera over to someone, possibly for a memorial photo at my possible funeral, and leant down while the hyena man put some meat above my head, and soon enough a hyena jumped on my back and snatched it away.

It was very creepy having a hyena jump on your back!

They are not only strong, but huge as well.

“Right”, said the hyena man, “time to put a stick in your mouth and feed them meat from the end of it”.

You got to be shitting me, was my naturally calm and rational response.

But before I knew it I had a stick with a piece of meat on the end and the second strongest jaws of any land animal snapping it off from 10cm in front of my face.

Feeding hyenas from mouth in Harar
“It’s just a little puppy, it’s just a little puppy”… gulp.

I was now actually beginning to thoroughly enjoy the experience. With my initial trepidition fading I was left alone with several hyenas around me and a basket full of meat.

The hyenas came from all sides and took it in turns taking meat from the basket.

They better be bloody right about not eating people as long as they have meat, was the mantra going around my brain.

I even started giving them names, Fido being the most prominent one that came to mind.

Feeding wild hyenas in Harar
“Good Fido”.

After about twenty minutes alone more tourists showed up.

These we’re domestic Ethiopian tourists and they understandably we’re very nervous as well.

Devious thoughts to make it sound really bad came to mind and I was soon having fun watching them go through the same experience I had.

Some took it better than others.

It was hilarious watching the show, with new people coming and having the fear on their faces of not knowing what to expect.

The piece-de-resistance was when a young girl put everyone to shame and happily took the basket of meat and started feeding the hyenas with a big grin on her face.

You wouldn’t get this show at Disneyland I thought!

After 45 minutes I left and wandered back in the dark with a big smile on my face.

Hyenas in Harar

I love seeing wildlife, so being up close with one of Africa’s most dangerous predators was incredible. I will never forget it snapping that meat from right in front of my face.

Make sure to take travel insurance for your adventures. I recommend using SafetyWing Travel Insurance for your trip, just in case, it’s best to be prepared.

See my post about exploring Harar’s old city here.

Learn more about Ethiopia with my complete Ethiopia travel guide.


Interested in Ethiopia?

Pick up my favourite guidebook to Ethiopia (good Harar section inside).

Ethiopia (Bradt Travel Guides)



19 thoughts on “Feeding Wild Hyenas In Harar Ethiopia (Truly Scary)”

  1. That’s crazy stuff! I stood next to one in a zoo in Zambia and they’re big (and they smell bad!). I can’t believe that little girl feeding them like that.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  2. Yeah they are bigger than you would think! Little girl put a lot of adults who didn’t want to do it to shame that’s for sure!

  3. Oh, this is crazy! Great article, I had to include this in my Best January Travel Experiences. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Well it must have been the guy there with them or something in that spot, because I was getting a stench that smelled of animal, and only when I sat around the hyena area.

  5. Be more considerate in your story when referring to human beings. Calling a fellow human “domestic” is disrespectful and can be interpreted in very negative ways.

  6. I did this a few years back and was trying so hard to keep the stick as far away from my face as possible that the hyena couldn’t get a good grip on the meat. It was in my face for like three terrifying seconds and then I just dropped the stick. Hyena guy was a bit annoyed I think.

  7. Does this cost anything? Or you just show up and watch? What about tipping (basically … what’s expected by the Hyena men?

  8. Yes you have to pay to feed them but not to watch (although this was over 4 years ago I did it so things may have changed). Just show up and see what happens. It’s right near the old city walls so easy to get to. If you do it would love an update in this comment section on how it went. Thanks!

  9. Pingback: Backpacking Ethiopia (A Complete Backpackers Guide) - Backpackingman

  10. Pingback: The Exotic Old City Of Harar In Ethiopia - Travel Ethiopia - Backpackingman

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