Fifteen minutes outside the ancient walled city of Harar, Ethiopia, is a flaming garbage dump.
A man is lighting a wall of fire at the edge of the field to illuminate the cool night. The trash seems to stretch to the mountains in the distance, and the flames offer enough light to see the fragments of bone flattened into the dirt and shadowy figures slinking behind clumps of brush. As dusk settles in, the man lets out a series of long whistles. “Jalla? Dibbey!” he calls, and suddenly the howls of hyenas surround us.
Twenty-year-old Abbas is a third-generation hyena feeder. He learned the trade at age 7 from his father, who learned it from the hyena man before him. Now his father is sick, so he’s taken over this strange, symbolic job. Hyenas are predators who have been known to attack humans if threatened, but in Harar they’ve been semi-domesticated and are, in a way, revered. The tradition of hand feeding the town’s scavengers began in the 1960s, possibly by a farmer trying to keep them away from his livestock. Today, it’s an unusual tourist draw to this otherwise remote edge of Ethiopia.