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Large carnivores in wild places are usually studied by biologists inside vehicles using telemetry and noninvasive methods. 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 among the locals for the protection they provide from harmful spirits and dangerous 'mountain' hyenas. They've even become a local tourist attraction.
In addition to the difficult conditions, stone-throwing children, and intransigent bureaucracy, Baynes-Rock had to contend with a clan of hyena subjects intent on avoiding people. After months of frustration, three young hyenas drew him into the hidden world of the Sofi clan. He learned the elements that make up 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 bounds of how human-animal relations are conceived.
Among the Bone Eaters is multispecies ethnography taken to its logical realization, revealing its messy, intersubjective, dangerously transformative potential, dissolving distinctions between human and animal so all that matters is subjects and how they affect each other.
Marcus Baynes-Rock is a research associate with the University of Notre Dame.
One of the most widely read American anthropologists, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has observed dogs, cats, and elephants during her half-century-long career. In the 1980s Thomas studied elephants alongside Katy Payne the scientist who discovered elephants' communication via infrasound. In 1993 Thomas wrote The Hidden Life of Dogs, a groundbreaking work of animal psychology that spent nearly a year on the New York Times bestseller list. Her book on cats, Tribe of Tiger, was also an international bestseller. She lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, on her family's former farm, where she observes deer, bobcats, bear, and many other species of wildlife.
"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."
– Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
"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."
– Marc Bekoff, author of Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence
"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."
– Piers Locke, University of Centerbury
"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."
– Agustin Fuentes, University of Notre Dame