No shortage of Hyenas in Ethiopia!
Ethiopia is hyena heaven
. Addis Ababa holds the distinction of being one of the very few, and perhaps the only
capital city in the world to have hyenas roaming the streets at night scavenging the discarded skulls of freshly "home-slaughtered" sheep and goats, preying on stray dogs, cats, livestock that aren't well secured, occasionally children, and more rarely adults. During any drive in the country side after dark you WILL see hyena in the headlights, and by the number of road-killed hyena observed in the morning when driving out on the open road, a good number are killed by cars every night. I would bet a conservative guess is something in the neighborhood of forty or more are killed by motor vehicles every night country wide.
I've had a few interesting experiences of my own with hyenas while living in Ethiopia . . .
The first animal I hunted in Africa was a Lesser Kudu Bull in December 1986. Camping rough in the Awash desert, and not having any ice or refrigeration capability, we used rope to hang each hind quarter to cool in the evening breeze from limbs of the Acacia trees we were camped under. We strung them up so that the low end of each hind quarter was something like six and a half or seven feet off the ground, and beyond the reach of hyena, or so I thought! Up at first light to find that the meat on the lowermost part of the hams was shredded! Tracks in the sand below were unmistakable. The hyenas apparently jumped repeatedly and the meat was just low enough that they could get a slight grip with their canines and incisors before falling back to the ground. Luckily the ropes held up or we would have lost all the meat! And surprisingly, they did this very quietly . . . seeing our tents only yards away , they did this without any of the vocalizing and squabbling that hyenas normally do when on the feed. If they had we would have surely woke up and run them off. I still find it hard to believe they did that without us hearing something and we slept right through it! Lesson learned . . . hang the meat HIGHER, and needless to say, if in Lion country, higher yet!
When out on hunting forays to different corners of the country when I lived in Ethiopia the late eighties, I met two different men with faces horribly disfigured as a result of being bitten on the face by hyena. Their stories were remarkably similar . . . as translated by my staff, each had "decided" to lay down and have a brief nap while walking home from a "beer drink". In both cases for some reason the hyena chose to bite them first on the face rather than the neck or somewhere on the body. Each could have starred in a horror movie without any need for make-up. I took interesting photos of these two unfortunate chaps, but they have unfortunately gone adrift over the years.
The first time I collected a hyena of my own was on a weekend hunt in 1987 just outside of a small town called Ginche, less than a hundred kilometers west of Addis Ababa. I always parked the car near the hut of a peasant farmer named Lemesa who I came to know quite well. Over numerous weekend trips to this location I collected Menelik's Bushbuck, Abyssinian Bush Duiker, Common Baboon, Colobus Monkey, Grivet Monkey, and Serval Cat. On each visit Lemesa complained bitterly about the hyenas "stealing" his goats and sheep, and threatening his children, and pleaded with me to shoot them all! On this outing we spent the afternoon stalking Menelik's Bushbuck. Unsuccessful with the bushbuck, we hunted right up to last light and then broke out flashlights to make our way back to the car (remember the old "Billy Club" MAGLITE?). As we approached, five or six pairs of orange eyes hovered in the darkness between the car and Lemesa's hut. My Game Scout Teferra patted his shirt pocket which held my yellow-book supplemental hunting license to remind me that I had hyena on license, and though I had not set out
to shoot a hyena that day, I thought since I did not have a bushbuck to skin, maybe I should
take one now to help out my old friend Lemesa. With the short reach of the light we could make out only the eyes, but the hyenas held close to the car as we continued to approach and eventually we could make them out fairly clearly as they bobbed and weaved in the light, vocalizing their uncertainty of how to react to the lights moving up the hill towards them. As they started to skulk away and at about forty yards Teferra illuminated one full sized animal that had what looked to be a nice markings, and it dropped with my shot. As I worked the bolt, Teferra moved the light to another, now galloping hyena, and yelled "SHOOT!", so I did, and that one fell. As I worked the bolt a second time he moved the light to a now rapidly retreating hyena right at the limit of the light's throw and again commanded that I shoot. This shot was an apparent miss. We took a few pictures with the first "animal of choice" and withdrew to spend the night in a negative five star hotel in the town. Returning the next morning to take more photos and skin the trophy hyena, Lemesa's young son came running up to say that he found the third one dead in the field. It had dropped just outside the range of our light. Since the license is for ONE, let the record state that the first was a "trophy" hyena shot on license, and the second and third were "problem animal control" as instructed by the official government Game Scout (insert smile here). Lemesa was most pleased about the demise of these three, but told us that he didn't want the carcasses of these disgusting animals spoiling his fields, and that he would burn the skinned carcass and the two we left behind. We did NOT stick around for the BBQ!
The next morning . . .
That's Teferra in the blue jacket . . .
When camping along the Web River gorge in the Bale mountains in 2007, there was a hyena den (more like a long descending crevice with a narrow opening) within sight of my camp and I would see a number of them emerge at dusk, and enjoy their serenades during the night. I returned a few months later on another fly-fishing trip and noticed there were no signs of the hyenas. When I enquired to the local farmer on whose land I was camping, he reported that the hyenas had killed a 14 year old boy walking along the gorge one night. The farmers of the area met to plot their revenge. Allowing the hyenas a few days to settle back to their normal activities, the farmers waited until mid-day when the hyenas would definitely be inside the den, and then blocked all the possible escape routes with large stones. As the ground was very rocky, the hyenas were unable to dig their way out and were trapped inside. An easy "low-tech solution" to that problem!
My second experience with hyena shooting was twice as fruitful.
The Addis Ababa International Airport has a long standing problem with hyenas on the airport presenting risk to aircraft operations. The authorities wanted the airport's resident hyena population reduced and when a long time Ethiopian friend and I got wind of this we volunteered our services. It took only a day to process the Federal Police and Airport Authority permits to bring a private vehicle and rifle on to the airport . . . amazing how fast government can work when they want to! Between the hours of 1830 and 2230 on a Friday evening in March of 2011, we saw a total of eleven, and of them, I shot the six that we found in a position with a safe backdrop. Shooting all but one while perched on the roof-rack of my friend's Land Cruiser. Of the six, one dropped at long range in a marshy area so we did not walk out to examine it, and of the remaining five, one was a mature female, three were adult males, and one was an immature animal, probably a male. Amazingly I was authorized to blaze away with my 7mm during aircraft operations, but a camera was NOT allowed (!) so I have no on site photos. I did retain the skulls of the three males, and the photograph was taken in my garden the following morning.
Wasn't it Kiichiro Toyoda that famously said "Use Enough Car"??
As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to drive Ethiopia's roads after dark for any distance without seeing a hyena or two. I always tried to avoid driving on the open road after dark, but when returning to Addis Ababa from a Warthog hunting trip to the Awash desert in April of 2011, I was running late and had no choice but to reluctantly drive home after dark. I was driving westbound on the so-called Awash Road slowly climbing the hills just west of Lake Beseka a little after 2100 hours. Awash Road is the capital's lifeline to the port of Djibouti and this two lane road bears a lot of heavy truck traffic. A large lorry approached eastbound, and at just about the moment we would pass each other, a hyena dashed out of the ditch on the left side, cleared the oncoming lorry by inches and entered my lane. There was no time to maneuver and I hit the hyena straight on at perhaps 60 km's per hour (to clarify, Ethiopia drives on the right side of the road). I did a U-turn to check on the hyena and assess damage to the Cruiser. My Land Cruiser was a 2006 model (prior to introduction of the plastic bumpers), so all the hyena did to the steel front bumper was polish off some of the bugs. The hyena was laying in the west bound lane with a broken back, but still alive and with head up. I wanted to dispatch it as mercifully as possible and drag it off the road, but my rifle box was buried under a lot of other gear and not wanting to unload the Cruiser there along the highway, I pulled a hammer from my tool kit and gave it a clean blow between the ears, took a quick photo, and then drug it off into the ditch.
My most recent hyena "contact" was in the capital this past December. The killing of a young homeless boy triggered city officials to take action. For those that have visited Addis Ababa, the attack occurred near St. Stefanos Church, and only a few blocks from the Hilton hotel where many visiting hunters have stayed over the years. Again my long time Ethiopian friend (who was coincidentally a camp boy on my 1986 Lesser Kudu hunt and is now going grey like I am!) volunteered our time and my ammunition. This time we teamed up with another very experienced resident hunter. Accompanied by Federal Police Officers, and a senior officer of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority We entered a bushy area right in the heart of the city where the hyenas were known to congregate and between the two rifles, we accounted for nine adult hyenas, and one pup. My first two before 1730 still in broad daylight!
Excuse the gore, there were a few head shots . . .
Ethiopian traditions do not associate hyenas with witchcraft and mystical powers to the extent that most other African cultures do. But having said that . . . someone suggested the hyenas eating my Lesser Kudu were standing on each other's backs!! And others have expressed their concern after the shooting that the hyenas would return in even greater numbers to "revenge" the hunters. So far, that has not been the case! One part of the hyena is used in Ethiopian traditional medicine however, the few course hairs above each eye. I've stopped to have a look at several road-killed hyena, and on every occasion, a patch of skin above each eye had already been removed by someone passing by before me. While culling the airport hyenas, one of the federal policemen borrowed my knife so he could remove the more prominent bristles from several of them. Despite my asking, I never got a clear explanation as to what this muti would be used for. I'll try to chase this mystery further the next time I'm back in Addis Ababa.
As to the long standing difficulty in determining a hyena's sex, I too was never a hundred percent certain for a number of years, as the female genitalia form a pseudo penis and scrotum that appear to be male. But during the last cull in December of 2012, we had the opportunity to examine nine adults side by side and could make one definitive observation. If examining a mature female that has already had pups, the two teats (there are only two and they are located far back almost on either side of the genitalia) will be significantly enlarged, black and leathery. This is a quite obvious external difference from a male. So from what I could see, the lack of these characteristics would indicate either a male, or I suppose a female that has not yet had young.
So Ethiopia should definitely make the short list of countries where a hunter will have a high likelihood of success for Spotted Hyena. Either by random encounter just at dusk or dawn or over bait . . . my suggested method is Lesser Kudu hung from an Acacia tree . . .
Excuse the long post, but these are the SHORT versions of the stories!