Dinner at the dump
Karine had heard that spotted hyenas gather at night at a dump in the city of Mekelle, northern Ethiopia, to scavenge for food. There is little wild prey left to hunt in the area, so these intelligent, opportunistic animals have learnt to make do – in fact, they’re thriving. Every night they converge on the dump to feed on anything organic, including bones and rotting meat. The locals tolerate them, grateful for these ‘municipal workers’ and their heavy-duty digestive systems. During Lent, however, the hyenas’ behaviour changes. Ethiopia’s orthodox church requires people to fast for 55 days, so the food at the dump all but vanishes. The hyenas switch to hunting livestock, including donkeys and the occasional dog. Despite their losses, the locals still tolerate them. Come Easter, humans and hyenas revert to their normal diets. Karine headed to Mekelle, determined to photograph the scene. The hyenas would arrive like clockwork after sunset, but the landscape would alter depending on how much rubbish was dumped. So every night Karine had to reposition the strobes, then locate the animals in the dark. After a week, she got her shot. She also learnt a lesson: never leave a rubber-covered mini-tripod in a hyenas’ dining area. Hyenas eat rubber and can crunch metal.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + 16–35mm f2.8 lens; 8 sec at f8; ISO 1250; three Canon 580EX strobes; three PocketWizard transmitters; one PocketWizard receiver; PocketWizard remotes.
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Karine Aigner, USA
A widely published freelance photographer and picture editor, Karine’s work is driven by her love of the natural world and its relationship with humans. Formerly senior photo editor of National Geographic Kids and Little Kids, she has a keen sense of storytelling. Karine is an associate fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and a seasoned workshop leader.