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Last Updated: Monday, 12 April, 2004, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Taming Ethiopia's hyenas
By Mohammed Adow
BBC, Ethiopia

I Seyyid Abdiweli Abdishakur, a traditional leader who also doubles up as a farmer and a pastoralist, has made a mark within his community by achieving what many men dread to even attempt.

Seyyid Abdishakur with the tame hawk
The hawks are effective in fighting off destructive birds at the farm
He has trained a hyena to look after his livestock and four hawks to guard his grain farms from destructive birds.

The Hyena and Hawk man lives in the small town of Qabri Bayah about 50 kilometres from Jigjiga town the headquarters of the Somali region in eastern Ethiopia.

When I visited him in his house, he was busy tending crops at his green garden - a rare sight in this arid neighbourhood.

A group of young men were playing with the male hyena, which seemed to enjoy all the action.

Near the hyena and without any fear, were four cows.

The hyena looked so much at home and even licked oil from the head of one of Seyyid Abdishakur's herders.

They have fondly named the hyena "Ali".

Cash savings

I asked Seyyid Abdishakur what led him to tame the hyena and hawks.

"I have a herd of about 370 goats and hyenas have been regularly attacking my herd. Then I hatched this plan of taming the animal and I got this one at the age of two and brought him home," he said.

Cow playing with the hyena
Warring Somalis ought to learn a lesson from this. I have brought together hawks, cats, chicken, cattle, goats and a hyena who are all sworn enemies and they are all living harmoniously in one place.
Seyyid Abdishakur
Mr Abdishakur says he knew hyenas do not come to attack anywhere where their offspring are.

"As for the hawks I caught them while they were young and I use them to guard my farms where I plant grain during the rainy season," he said.

Mr Abdishakur says both the hawks and hyena have been of great use to him.

"I have saved the funds which I used to hire extra people to guard my crops against birds and the hyena has become a good shepherd... other hyenas now fear my herd," he said.

This great friendship between the beast and livestock has not come about easily.

Village attraction

Mr Abdishakur says that at first he was forced to hire a vehicle to carry the hyena around whenever his livestock moved to a new location.

This was to prevent "Ali" meeting other hyenas and taking off with them.

For the past four years the hyena has stayed with him and served him well.

Mr Abdishakur says that he has never slaughtered a goat within the sight of the hyena to avoid it seeing the livestock as a source of food.

"I only give him meat from the butcher," he says.

But has he got any fears of the hyena leaving him and going back to the wild?

"Yes, when the Hyena feels the urge to mate, then there is the danger of it leaving in search of a female one. But I have already considered this and I now put certain herbs in its food to reduce its sexual urge," said Mr Abdishakur.

He says that he learnt this from his late father whom he says was knowledgeable on many things.

And he is philosophical about his success in taming the wild animal and birds

Herds boy playing with the tame hyena
The hyena has become a reliable "shepherd"
"All living things have the same interests," he said.

"Warring Somalis ought to learn a lesson from this. I have brought together hawks, cats, chicken, cattle, goats and a hyena who are all sworn enemies and they are all living harmoniously in one place. It's time Somalis reflected and thought of their interests and stopped feuding."

Mr Abdishakur has also kept the hawks separated in huge cages fearing that they will mate and breed.

He says he does not have the financial ability to support any offspring at the moment.

But for now he is the centre of attraction in this village and people from both far and near come to his compound daily to marvel at his rare catch.

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Country profile: Ethiopia
13 Feb 04  |  Country profiles

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