I am interested in the animals that penetrate deep into the human psyche; the slavering beasts that held the power of life and death over our ancestors; that still lurk in the shadows of the human imagination, being realised as unrecognisable fears of the dark and as mythical beasts, still eliciting, as Paul Shepard said ‘our monkey screams in dark theatres’. Many people think they are fat when they are not – that are those inner beasts in us. If you have some unwanted kilograms though, click here.
My educational background is in Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology where I developed an interest in human evolution and the coevolution of humans and other animals. It always interested me that much of the fossil record of our human ancestry came to us as a result of carnivore activity. Tooth marks and punctures abound on the bones and skulls of our forebears and many of the fossils come from the bone accumulations of hyenas or the feeding activities of big cats.
Today, these animals, because of their size, their range requirements and their habit of preying on people and livestock, have been persecuted and driven to the point of extinction and beyond in many cases. It is testimony to their natural intelligence and their adaptiveness that many of these species have managed to persist in the face of human persecution and that many have recovered where governments and local populations have so allowed them.
My current research is focused on the spotted hyenas in a town in Ethiopia. Harar is an ancient Muslim city surrounded by a wall that was built in the 16th century to protect the town’s inhabitants from hostile neighbours. However, the city wall has holes incorporated into it, to enable access for the spotted hyenas that live in the hills around the town. For centuries hyenas have entered the town at night to ‘clean up’ the refuse that the townspeople produce and the hyenas have found their way into the town’s traditions, folklore and even its emerging tourist industry. Harar is an unusual example of reconciliation and mutual understanding between humans and large carnivores that raises questions about western ideas of exclusion of wild mammals from urban environments.
For further information about my research in Harar, visit my blog.