Friday, August 8, 2008


Pieter Hugo is a South African based photographer who was selected as the Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art 2007. His photographic series of the Hyena men of Nigeria is phenomenal!

The story I heard and later read here, was that a friend sent Pieter a cell phone photograph of a group of men leading chained hyenas down a street in Lagos. This is a sight I would find totally amazing because full grown hyenas aren't the most friendly creatures and I wouldn't put it past one to snap an arm off as easily as snapping a piece of celery. Their jaws are extremely powerful. On the other hand I have heard that when reared from puppies they make the most charming and amiable pets.

Anyway to cut a long story short, Pieter hopped onto a plane for Lagos, found the Hyena Men and actually traveled with them for 8 days.

The "Gadawan Kura" (hyena handlers) are a group of travelling entertainers who earn a living by performing with these hyenas..... as well as a few baboons and rock pythons.

The photographs of this unlikely coexistence are so extraordinary that I have returned to look at them several times but I must admit they do leave me feeling rather unsettled.


  1. robyn, i swear all i can say to most of your posts, is 'WOW'... who knew there were hyena handlers?!! my favorite photo is the second one from the top. those colors, that image... perfect... those hyenas are *big*.

  2. Lynne, that's exactly what I said when I first saw the photographs. Wow!

  3. I agree about feeling unsettled but does that make me a hypocrite? I have a dog. Its an animal that has been domesticated maybe it would be happier in the wild?
    I am just amazed at the size of hyenas. I thought they were dog size.

  4. Those hyenas look very big and very strong. I thought they would have been a bit thinner.

  5. Wow, that second picture, especially, has such a stricking and dangerous feel. Really stunning...and also the last one...very piercing.

    I didn't realize hyenas were so big!

  6. Unsettling is the word. There is something menacing about those photographs. But at the same time, you can't take your eyes off them.

  7. I was struck by how BIG the hyenas are. I love the photo of the comical..but agree I'd rather the animals were living free. However, saying that, its lucky some species have been preserved in captivity, e.g, in zoo parks etc. Do the laws allow wild animal performances?

  8. Jason, the group also have hunting dogs so that they can hunt down food for the hyenas. I think they are quite well fed.

    Willow, credit to the photographer. He has taken brilliant photographs that stir up all sorts of emotions.

    Kate, yes quite mesmerising aren't they.

    June, apparently the humane society has tried to put a stop to it but the men have permits from the Nigerian government and nothing can be done. At this stage the animals regard the men as their "family" and I think it would be worse putting them in a zoo. They certainly couldn't set them free because they no longer fear humans and could be unpredictable with strangers.

  9. Powerful images, I like them very much!

  10. Yep, I agree, they are rather unsettling, yet striking in their unnaturalness.

  11. Wow, those hyenas look really powerful and all the photos are amazing but I have to agree with you on your last point.

  12. I just stumbled over here via Lynne's journal, and I'm glad I did!

    I remember seeing that first photo elsewhere a while back, and being completely wowed by it.

  13. Robyn! These pictures make me shudder, but I can't stop looking.
    The man in the second picture is amazing.
    What a fascinating and disturbing subject.

  14. I agree, unsettling. I hate seeing chains on animals. However, I didn't realise the hugeness of the hyena.

  15. Very powerful images Robyn...they too leave me unsettled.
    Huge animals...the handlers must have amzing physical as well as emotional strength to do what they do.
    Human survival...probably the drive here. It saddens me.
    Thanks for sharing these images.

  16. A confessional here: I don't like zoos. Protective sanctuaries for animals in their natural habitats... but hate zoos. They make my stoamch do flip=flops...I get all chocked-up inside seeing caged animals. Hyenas are fierce, angry predators...scary beasts. Baboons aren't much better! I can't imagine training them! Unbelievable photos...frightening.

    My golly...your posts never cease to amaze!!

  17. I thought Hyenas were on the much smaller side...
    It is a very different life there... I know it is not what we want to see, I mean wild (or tame for that matter)animals on chains, but It was not that long ago that here in Canada there were travelling circus shows where there would be bears on chains.. as a matter of fact my father who lived pretty much in the woods most all his life, when he was young caught a bear and sold it to the circus.. that was back in the 50's...
    I guess people do what they have to do to survive..
    Thank you Robyn!!

  18. These photographs are unsettling, but so dramatic. The faces on these men are so intense and their eyes piercing. Thank you for sharing these amazing photo's. Roxanne

  19. Thinker, Valonia, Judy, Machinarex, Annette, thanks for commenting. They are indeed fascinating photographs.

    HHBN, most people seem to be surprised at how large they are.I think you would be amazed at their jaws too. Really powerful.

    Jo, yes its a matter of survival. According to one of the writers, if they weren't doing this for a living the group would probably have to resort to crime.

    Stephanie I also find zoos quite upsetting though I've always said Gerald Durrell's zoo must have been wonderful.

    Gwen, my mum inlaw saw many chained performing bears when she was in Russia but I think it is slowly dieing out.

    Roxanne, they are dramatic aren't they. Spending 8 days with them must have been quite an eye opener for Pieter Hugo.

  20. I saw some of these photos a short while ago, and I felt much the same way that you do.....

    It's amazing the loyalty these animals have for their owners.....
    I think that they would follow them around without the chains.

  21. Oh, and cyber hugs are just wonderful. Thank you. (And the last picture of the baboons makes me smile, especially with the Beckham shirt!)

  22. Hi Robyn, I just found an image from this post on Pinterest, what an incredible series of pictures. Like you wrote a little unsettling too!

  23. Yes, Wow... unsettling to say the least for so many reasons. Intense, and it is something to see the hyenas in this context. I suppose I've ever only seen them on wildlife programs when there is no human around for scale.

    1. Fascinating that when they are on the move they all sleep curled up together next to the fire....hyenas, handlers and their children.