They’re fierce predators that can crush an elephant’s leg with their teeth. They’re hyenas. Urban hyenas.
It is late evening in Addis Ababa. Stephen Brend, a zoologist with the Born Free Foundation, is driving me to the airport to catch a flight back to London.
“Have you got time for a ten-minute detour?” he asks, as we passed the British embassy. “Of course,” I reply.
So he turns off the road and up a dirt track between some rough shacks and a collection of battered old jalopies that passes for a taxi rank in Ethiopia’s capital.
“There! Look there!” Stephen exclaims. In the beams of his headlights I see several pairs of eyes glinting in the darkness like tiny mirrors. As we drive closer I begin to make out the shapes of the animals behind those eyes. They are hideous beasts, as large as the largest dogs, with coarse spotted brown fur, elongated necks and front legs much longer than their back ones so their backs taper away from their powerful shoulders.
“Hyenas,” says Stephen. Some of the fiercest predators on earth. And they are brazenly scavenging around a collection of rubbish skips right next to a football pitch and less than 50 yds from people’s homes.
As we watch, a group of teenagers walks up the track, right past the animals. “They’re mad,” Stephen remarks. Hyenas have jaws as powerful as those of great white sharks, he explains. They can crush an elephant’s leg. They devour every last morsel of their prey – bones included. “I mean – there’s nothing left,” he says.