Hyenas and Humans in the Horn of Africa

Author : Daniel W. Gade

Year : 2006

The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), the most common large carnivore in the highlands and lowlands of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, has occupied both a scavenging niche and a predatory position at the top of the food chain. My own field explorations on this animal and the observations of travelers document its long and ambivalent association with people in the Horn of Africa. Spotted hyenas in this region have mostly lived in anthropo- genic contexts rather than, as in East Africa, on wildlife. Tolerated as efficient sanitation units, hyenas have removed garbage and carrion from towns. They have also destroyed livestock, killed people, and eaten corpses. Famine, epidemics, and armed conflict have provided op- portunities for unbridled anthropophagy. The past and present coming together of human and hyena in this multiethnic region can be viewed as a vestige of a primeval African ecologi- cal relationship that dates far back in prehistory. Biological processes offer a deeper frame- work than culture with which to grasp the inherent contradiction of the hyena/human relationship past and present. Keywords: anthropophagy, Crocuta crocuta, Ethiopia, Horn of Africa, spotted hyena.