Single Shot: Poisoned Hyena

Each entry in the “Single Shot” visual anthropology series presents a single photograph or unbroken shot of video taken during ethnographic fieldwork, plus a short description, with an emphasis on the researcher’s reflexive experience. The series editor is Dr. Natasha Fijn. Submit your own Single Shots to

Author: Dr. Marcus Baynes-Rock is an anthropologist and postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Notre Dame. His ethnographic research of human/hyena relations in the city of Harar, Ethiopia is described in his book Among the Bone Eaters. Currently, Marcus is researching processes of farming and pet-keeping of native Australian animals such as crocodiles, emus, dingoes, and stingless bees. Follow Marcus on Twitter or on his blog, Among Animals.

This clip shows a wild hyena suffering from the effects of being poisoned. It’s confronting.

This is how thousands of hyenas and other animals die all the time – because they’re inconvenient to human populations. This particular hyena, a juvenile, is lying in the middle of a busy road in Harar, Ethiopia. While the clip is confronting it’s also revealing, and it leaves space for interspecies relations beyond killing. The box of matches and wedge of lime are artefacts of a man’s attempts to revive the young hyena. Lime is traditionally used in Harar to treat people who have swallowed bleach; smoke from matches is traditionally used to treat epilepsy. These were left on the road after the man’s unsuccessful attempts to treat the poisoned hyena.

While this clip was being filmed, the man was fetching a wheelbarrow to carry the hyena to a place where she would be given milk and then handed over to the resident hyena clan. This act, in turn, sparked a clan war three days later between two neighbouring hyena clans.

The clip marks a significant moment, not just in that hyena’s life but in the entangled histories of the human and hyena populations in Harar. It also marks time and place where social relations are pulled from narrow anthropocentrism and splayed out onto the living, more-than-human world.

[Editor’s note: this video depicts serious animal suffering, and is extremely difficult to watch. Please use discretion before viewing.]

Image: screen-capture from the above video by Marcus Baynes-Rock

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