Cover image for Among the Bone Eaters: Encounters with Hyenas in Harar By Marcus Baynes-Rock and Foreword by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Among the Bone Eaters

Encounters with Hyenas in Harar

Marcus Baynes-Rock, Foreword by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas


$34.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-06720-9

Available as an e-book

280 pages
7" × 9"
48 b&w illustrations/3 maps

Animalibus: Of Animals and Cultures

Among the Bone Eaters

Encounters with Hyenas in Harar

Marcus Baynes-Rock, Foreword by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

“[This] book is nothing short of amazing.”


  • Media
  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects

Listen to an interview with Marcus Baynes-Rock about his experiences with the hyenas of Harar from WBUR’s Here and Now here.

Visit Marcus Baynes-Rock’s website Hyenas in Harar.

Biologists studying large carnivores in wild places usually do so from a distance, using telemetry and noninvasive methods of data collection. So what happens when an anthropologist studies a clan of spotted hyenas, Africa’s second-largest carnivores, up close—and in a city of a hundred thousand inhabitants? In Among the Bone Eaters, Marcus Baynes-Rock takes us to the ancient city of Harar in Ethiopia, where the gey waraba (hyenas of the city) are welcome in the streets and appreciated by the locals for the protection they provide from harmful spirits and dangerous “mountain” hyenas. They’ve even become a local tourist attraction.

At the start of his research in Harar, Baynes-Rock contended with difficult conditions, stone-throwing children, intransigent bureaucracy, and wary hyena subjects intent on avoiding people. After months of frustration, three young hyenas drew him into the hidden world of the Sofi clan. He discovered the elements of a hyena’s life, from the delectability of dead livestock and the nuisance of dogs to the unbounded thrill of hyena chase-play under the light of a full moon. Baynes-Rock’s personal relations with the hyenas from the Sofi clan expand the conceptual boundaries of human-animal relations. This is multispecies ethnography that reveals its messy, intersubjective, dangerously transformative potential.

“[This] book is nothing short of amazing.”
“I shouldn’t say that I envy Marcus for his intimacy with hyenas, because intimacy is the world’s best way of gaining knowledge of an animal, and there’s no such thing as too much knowledge about hyenas. Instead, I should acknowledge the deep gratitude I feel, and that all of us should feel, about this work that he’s done and the possibilities it offers. If we knew all animals as he knows hyenas, we’d save the world.”
Among the Bone Eaters is a fascinating read. Most readers will be surprised to learn about the very close, reciprocal, and mutually beneficial relationships that have evolved between resident carnivorous spotted hyenas and people in Harar—and how overcoming fear led to enduring friendships. This book touches on a very timely topic, namely, human-animal relationships (anthrozoology) in a human-dominated world in which these sorts of encounters are not only inevitable but also essential to understanding.”
“This is a compelling account of the intersecting worlds of humans and hyenas in a shared architectural landscape. Baynes-Rock shares with us his intimate experiences developing social relations with hyenas as well as humans, thereby confounding distinctions between ethology and ethnography. By extending anthropology’s intersubjective approach to nonhumans, he explores the overlapping dynamics of hyena and human lifeworlds, producing a work that will undoubtedly make a significant contribution to the emerging field of multispecies ethnography.”
“Through a rich narrative, filled with the people, events, sights, and sounds of the distant city of Harar, we are invited to share space, place, and time with the least likely compatriot for humans: the spotted hyena. Marcus Baynes-Rock guides us into a world that is simultaneously strange and familiar, and we leave transformed. This book is great anthropology, a great story, and most importantly—it will change the way you think about being human with other animals.”
Among the Bone Eaters isn’t precisely a natural history of the spotted hyena, nor is it precisely an ethnography of the Harari. Instead, it’s an utterly remarkable combination of the two, a portrait of a human community forging a working relationship with Africa’s second-largest carnivore.”
Among the Bone Eaters is a probing look at the complex relationship between humans and wild animals. . . . Baynes-Rock’s immersive account is told with sharp-eyed, self-effacing prose, and he leaves nothing out—Ethiopia’s sluggish bureaucracy, the town’s maze-like geography, and even the Oromo woman he meets and eventually marries. It’s as much a travelogue as it is a research study.”
“The important thing to remember is that this is not a book just about hyenas or just about Hararis; it’s about both, all held together with its greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts third element of the curious and fascinating societal adaptations made by both parties that has enabled the humans and hyenas of Harar to live in balance together. Truly, it is a book quite unlike any other you’ve likely ever read.”
Among the Bone Eaters will appeal to a general audience interested in learning more about hyenas and the subtle aspects of their interactions with humans as well as to professional anthropologists and ethnographers.”
“Remarkable. . . . This is a delightful book, full of fascinating portraits of humans and hyenas in a remote corner of the world where ancient lines of animosity are blurred.”

Marcus Baynes-Rock is a research associate with the University of Notre Dame. He divides his time between Indiana, Ethiopia, and northern New South Wales, where he lives with his wife and baby daughter.


Foreword by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas



1 Past Finding Around Harar

2 Lines of Reason for Hyenas

3 Between Different Relations

4 You Hyenas

5 The Legend of Ashura

6 On the Tail of a Hyena

7 Encounters with the Unseen

8 Reflections from a Hyena Playground

9 Death, Death, and Rhetoric

10 Blood of the Hyena

11 Across a Human/Hyena Boundary

12 A Host of Other Ideas

13 Returning to Other Hyenas

14 Talking Up Hyena Realities

15 Looking Through a Hyena Hole