On Saturday night, on the road to Argobberi, there was a circle of people and in the middle, under the torchlight there was a young hyena, about 1 year old, lying on the road, twitching violently and making noises indicating a lot of distress. At first sight it appeared to be a victim of a car accident, but it soon became apparent that the hyena had ingested some poison. It turns out that some of the kids, in this place outside the old town, bake poison into bread and leave it out for hyenas. This is completely illegal in Ethiopia, where all wildlife is protected and there are heavy penalties for killing wild animals, but sometimes kids are not inclined to consider consequences when they hatch their little pranks.
A man (either a Sheikh or Zhakir) was reciting Quranic verses over the hyena while people looked on. Some women were laughing, possibly nervously, while the hyena writhed on the road and the crowd got bigger. It was suggested that the hyena be killed to end its suffering but there was also some expectation that the quranic verses would somehow miraculously heal the hyena. Then the hyena man came, having been informed that there was a sick hyena and his first action was to light a match and make the hyena breathe in the smoke. This is a local remedy for epileptic seizures which probably made sense to the hyena man as the hyena was having what looked like seizures. But on realising that the hyena had been poisoned, the hyena man sent for some lemons and held open the hyena’s mouth, into which he squeezed lemon juice; again, a local cure, this one for suicidal girls who’ve swallowed bleach. This failed to have any result so the hyena was picked up and loaded into a wheelbarrow and wheeled down the hill to the hyena man’s compound, with the religious man in tow, reciting continuously.
It had appeared earlier that the juvenile was not of the Suqutatberi clan. It was unfamiliar and had never been seen at the hyena feeding place. And this became more apparent when the Suqutatberi hyenas heard its squeals and groans as it was wheeled into the compound. The hyenas became highly charged, making a huge din and displaying all sorts of signs of aggression to the people. It was suggested that some milk should be given to the juvenile hyena and this was brought presently and once again the hyenas mouth held open while the milk was poured in. By this time the entire Suqutatberi clan had come to the hyena place, 35 hyenas, and the whole surrounding area was dotted with glowing eyes and rang out with the most intense growling and whooping. The hyenas, led by Deraltu, became so aggressive that the people, including the hyena man, were driven back to the shrine and held at bay there. It was suggested that if these hyenas ate the poisoned juvenile (hyenas are cannibals and will even eat their own clan members a few days after death) then there would be a lot of suffering and a lot of dead hyenas, but the hyena man’s son insisted they wouldn’t eat it.
Then Willi went up to the juvenile and dragged it away from the people by the scruff of the neck. Once the juvenile was away from the people some more hyenas came and one picked it up and took it away into the dark where there was a huge amount of commotion from the hyenas. The commotion seemed to recede into the darkness as the juvenile must have been taken further and further away, then the noise subsided. The following morning there was no sign of the poisoned juvenile, just some flattened grass and trails leading in all directions. It is possible that the juvenile was simply killed and left for the vultures but there is also a possibility that some of the hyenas in the Suqutatberi clan ate of the poisoned hyena. Last night, Willi was absent from the hyena feeding place.
I make no apologies for the confronting nature of the video below. Actually the reality is a lot worse. This is the fate of many hyenas in Africa where all kinds of poisons are readily available and hyenas, being capable scavengers, are easy victims of poisoned carcasses. And it’s not a quick and painless death, the suffering takes hours or even days. Ethiopia is progressive in its wildlife protection laws but there are other countries where hyenas are valued less, where they are considered as vermin and only protected within the confines of national parks. The ones that dare to wander and prey on the economic livelihoods of people, or even just to consume the dead that the people have no use for, do so with a great deal of risk.