Hyena Men

This series of disturbing and yet fascinating images forms part of the work of acclaimed photographer Pieter Hugo.

Hyena Men

© Pieter Hugo

Hugo visited Nigeria to better understand this strange relationship between man and beast after seeing an image taken by Nigerian journalist Adetokunbo Abiola.

He travelled with this small family group of street performers who use these animals as props, a practice handed down over many generations. Hugo described this arrangement as “…hybridisation of the urban and the wild, and the paradoxical relationship that the handlers have with their animals – sometimes doting and affectionate, sometimes brutal and cruel”. His description reminded me of so many other human/animal relationships that go the same way.

Personally I am horrified at the images and all they say about how our relationship with animals can become so twisted and conveniently devoid of any compassion.  And yet I feel myself drawn again and again to the images – just like the throngs of onlookers who pay money to see these animals perform in the streets of Nigeria.  If this wretched circus were to appear in your street would you also be drawn into staring and so play a role in the sick system?

Hyena Men

© Pieter Hugo

Hyena Men

© Pieter Hugo

Hyena Men

© Pieter Hugo

Hyena Men

© Pieter Hugo

Hyena Men

© Pieter Hugo

See further images and a detailed account from both Hugo and Abiola here.

Simon Espley

Simon Espley is an African of the digital tribe, a chartered accountant and CEO of Africa Geographic. His travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, real people with interesting stories and elusive birds. He lives in Cape Town with his wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells, and when not travelling or working he will be on his mountain bike somewhere out there. His motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". The views expressed in his posts are his own. Connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.

  • Candice Young

    this is heart breaking to see! of my favourite wild animals are in the pictures above. is there any alternate income for these people should these animals be taken away for rehabilitation? are these animals able to be rehabilitated?

    • Gustavo

      yes, agree, it is heart breaking. Gareth said it: the background speaks volumes of their life circumstances. Our hearts should me moved towards the people, there are so many families who need to be ‘rehabilitated’. This treatment to the animals is just a consequence of hardship. Sympathy for any wild animal should be secondary to solidarity for a family

      • Marlo Shedlock

        “Sympathy for any wild animal should be secondary to solidarity for a family” that is your opinion – sympathy for an animal will alwasy be first to me – the voiceless deserve and need a voice.

  • Gareth Roberts

    I sadly cant view all the images. Great documentation. Guess these are going viral now. Some shock treatment. Well done Pieter for capturing these. Should we really be concentrating on the foreground of the image or maybe we should be looking to the background that speaks volumes of their life circumstances. How much greenery do you see? I see a poor people in a rich nation full of potential and amazing resources. Are we any worse or better than the guys with the animals?

    • Deona

      Yes this is an shock to see a hyena tied up all day by a chain, and showed off to spectators, but WHAT makes THIS any diffrent from dogs? horses? (we even ride horses and play games with it, we even put them at risk) or any animal tied up ect ???? The only diffrence is that its a hyena and not a labradour……….. am i wrong? all animals were wild at one stage right? i dont know……this is sad yes, but…..just because we dont do it with hyenas, does that make it wrong, just because MILLIONS of people dont keep hyenas, does that make it wrong…….do you have a dog? cat? rabbit? horse??? then think about your question clearly.

      • Themba

        Yes all animals have been wild at one stage BUT dogs, cats, horses, rabbits have been domesticated. This is a process which has taken thousands of years, and that has modified (physically/physiologically, even genetically) the animals from their wild counterpats. In most of the cases, domesticated animals could not live on their own very well.
        Wild animals who have been tamed, are different. The Taming process is very different from the domestication process. It only takes place on one (or a few?) generations. Tamed animals will revert back to their natural behavior in the wild and that domesticated animals would not. “A tiger cub fed by hand, imprinting on its captors, may grow up to treat them like family. But that tiger’s offspring, at birth, will be just as wild as its ancestors. Domestication, by contrast, is not a quality trained into an individual, but one bred into an entire population through generations of living in proximity to humans. Many if not most of the species’ wild instincts have long since been lost.”
        THIS is what makes hyenas different from dogs: tamed VS domescticated.

        SO in this case, people are keeping wild animals captive (chain, muzzle), and prevent them from expressing their natural behaviours (climbing, hunting, socialising with others of their own species etc….).
        In the case of a dog, they are not held captive, the natural behaviour of dogs is to actually seek contact with humans, and they have lost (through domestication) their ancestor’s behaviour of hunting etc…

        Here is an interesting article on the subject http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/03/taming-wild-animals/ratliff-text/1

      • Marlo Shedlock

        Two wrongs don’t make a right. I have 5 rescue dogs but I don’t muzzle them. keep them in chains, make them do tricks. Any type of animals abuse is wrong and these animals deserve to live in the wild and not at the mercy of humans.

  • Francille van Tiddens

    WHY WHY do you take pictures like these ones and then at the same time call yourself a conservationist – i simply do not understand!

    • Photographers and reporters take photos so that others, like us, can find out about what is happening. Taking photos of soldiers at war does not mean you condone the activities, and this is no different.

  • Hardeep Kaur

    You sound very judge-y and I don’t see any concrete evidence of cruelty except for your use of the word. What is visible is some people treating animals as kids or family members get treated in poor households (and that’s my interpretation) and I see how it’s just a bad way to live because one suffers. But how is this ‘wretched circus’ unlike the rest of the world which either poaches or prays to animals and gives them endangered status after having mistreated them for food or cloth?

    • Anverali merali

      Well said

    • Very well-said.

    • Amur Tiger

      Cruelty is holding wild animals in captivity, forcing hyenas to wear muzzles, training and using apes and monkeys for shows and entertainment etc. You shouldn’t comment on this topic if you aren’t at least a little bit familiar with it. So.. not very well said.

    • Marlo Shedlock

      Judge -y? Are you kidding me – you must be blind. These photos scream cruelty! Taking a wild animal and making it perform tricks, keeping the animal muzzled on heavy chairs is barbaric. Look at these photos! Making the hyena stand on it’s back legs – not natural, dressing a baboon and making him ride a bike – not natural. And though the article does not state this – I’m sure the animals are beaten into submission.

  • EB

    from a psychological point, Im wondering: which of their feelings do they project to these animals? What do they read in the animals’ expression and why do they need to? What do you see in your Labrador’s eyes? Let us not be too sentimental in understanding this. And also, it is Africa…do we know how they see hyena’s from mythology etc? Surely interesting albeit I wish they rather didn’t…

  • Rhyan

    Oil creates greed I see a majestic animal reduced to a guard dog I see a country full of wealth but none for the people of the country the same can be said about the rest of the world. Kony is an evil man so is Obama and bush

  • AS

    Animals belong int their natural habits, not only for us but for themselves. This is cruel… saddened by this story. Thank you for opening my eyes

  • Emily

    Yes, dogs are domesticated and hyenas are only tame–but domesticating dogs started with wild animals. There’s no reason hyenas couldn’t end up domesticated over time. If there IS cruelty going on, then it’s terrible, but all I see is an animal on a leash. There’s nothing directly in these images that proves cruelty is going on or that the animals aren’t actually well cared for or happy.

    I wonder if partly people just react badly because it’s not an animal that we’re used to seeing as a pet…but if history had gone differently we could all be keeping domestic hyenas and freaking out because some crazy person has a wolf.

    I’d like to learn more about how they’re being kept before I judge.

    • Marlo Shedlock

      You only see an animal on a leash – the hyena is muzzled, forced to stand on it’s hind legs, on a giant metal chain???? These animals are suffering.

  • Karolina Boy

    The cave man will never understand the mind of a African.

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