Two species, many stories

The relationship between hyenas and dogs in Harar is quite complex; there being a bunch of different factors that affect the ways in which the two species interact. The most striking aspect is the individual differences within each species. Bebe, for example, really hates dogs and she growls whenever a dog comes near and she sometimes walks towards dogs just to intimidate them and make them move away. While Deraltu is not really bothered by them at all and I’ve seen a dog walk right past her without eliciting any reaction other than the usual pivoting of the ears as the canine passed by. Jalla is quite afraid of dogs and she usually avoids them, even if they’re behind a closed gate. But in general, hyenas seem to dislike dogs, rather than fear them, and they have to tolerate a lot of persecution from dogs within the walled town. In fact, one of my methods for locating hyenas is to listen to where there are dogs barking like crazy and go to that place. Invariably I’ll find a hyena munching on a bone while a dogs barks its head off from a safe distance, or from behind a gate or even standing on a wall. Its interesting that hyenas don’t seem to have figured out that they weigh more than twice as much as the local mongrels and that they could easily tear one to pieces if only they were so inclined. Maybe a chase is not worth the energy expenditure. And maybe the risk of getting bitten back is too great.

Locals will tell you that if a dog’s owner is close by, the dog will be quite brave and even chase a hyena. But when dogs are on their own, they put their tails between their legs and hurry past. My observations bear this out and it seems they feel they have something to prove to us humans. Dogs, for their part, vary individually as well. Some are quite brash and will run at hyenas, while others will bark a lot but when a hyena approaches them, they retreat behind a gate. I’ve seen a hyena stick its nose inside a gate while two dogs barked like mad on the other side, but were afraid to come close. And there was one time when a dog decided to try its luck at the hyena feeding. Quite bravely, it ran around the hyenas trying to get scraps of meat that the hyena man was throwing. It only came for a few nights, after which I never saw it again.

Below is a video of a juvenile hyena feeding amongst some dogs at Police Meda, just outside the old town. It goes to show that there is no simple way to describe the relationship between the two species. Just like us, their behaviour varies among individuals and depends on the mood of the animal in question.

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