HYENAS AND HUMANS IN THE HORN OF AFRICA

Authors


  • Acknowledgment is made to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and the University of Vermont Graduate College for their support of research in Ethiopia. Stephen L. Pastner (then of the University of Vermont's Department of Anthropology) and William Anderson (then a Peace Corps volunteer working on smallpox eradication), were field collaborators. Special thanks go to Editors Viola Haarmann and Douglas Johnson for their professionalism and attention to detail.

Abstract

ABSTRACT. 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 anthropogenic 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 opportunities 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 ecological relationship that dates far back in prehistory. Biological processes offer a deeper framework than culture with which to grasp the inherent contradiction of the hyena/human relationship past and present.

Ancillary