A close encounter of the wild kind: The hyena men of Harar

Ancient, atmospheric Harar is one of Africa’s oldest cities. It’s also home to the men who feed hyenas. SIMON ALLISON travelled to eastern Ethiopia to watch them in action, getting so close to one of Africa’s most dangerous predators that he could smell the rotting meat on its breath.

It’s dark in Harar. The sun has just set, and I find myself in a three-wheeled bajaj careening our way through the narrow streets of the old city – in and out of tiny lanes, only barely dodging the ancient clay walls in brilliant pink and green and turquoise, and with scant regard for oncoming traffic or the lives of the pedestrians that claim the cobbled roads as their own.

Harar, draped atop a mountain in eastern Ethiopia, is a once-in-a-lifetime attraction in its own right. It is one of the oldest cities in Africa, so old that no one quite remembers how or why or even when it was founded (the best estimate is sometime in the seventh century), and walking through its passageways is like being in a less refined, more Ethiopian version of Fez or Tangiers. Ancient walls still surround the old city, which can only be entered through one of six gates. Barring a few concessions to modern life – electricity, satellite dishes, and occasional running water – it feels as if little has changed.

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