Pieter Hugo is an South african self-taught documentary photographer best known for these unsettling images called “The Hyena & other men” shot in Nigeria (2005-2007).
Hugo first came across the “hyena men” in 2005 when he received an email from a friend, telling him about the hyena men. Hugo set out for Nigeria to track down the men and after he found them, he started living with them for a couple of weeks. The hyena group consisted of a group of men, a little girl, three hyenas, four monkeys and a few rock pythons.
The “hyena men” were described as criminals, drug dealers and debt collectors, using the animals as a weapon. Later, it turned out they were not necessarily criminals, but rather a group of performers, traveling from village to village to entertain crowds and sell traditional medicines. Pieter wanted to capture the relationship between the men and their captive animals, and he was fascinating of the paradoxical relationship that the handlers had with their animals, where they sometimes were warm and caring, and sometimes brutal and cruel. He realized that the crowd the men attracted when walking into a new village, was a distraction, photographically. So he started to shoot the group before and after their shows, in relatively deserted streets at dawn or dusk, and sometimes in big urban areas. Concerning the welfare of the hyenas and the baboons Hugo explained,
“They were not treated well and it started to get to me by the end of my time with the handlers. There were a lot of big sticks and they were used when the animals did not do what they were supposed to. The hyenas are so big they seemed to absorb even the strongest blows to the head but the monkeys seemed terrified at times. When I asked people about the cruel treatment of the animals in Nigeria, they just looked at me as if I was mad. It simply isn’t an issue there.”