The hyena's reputation for feeding on carrion
and the bones of carcasses left by other predators has
given it a poor image as a cowardly and nasty animal. Its sinister
laugh sends shivers down the spines of tourists on safari.
But now Somalia's radical Islamist al-Shabaab militia has declared the meat of the hyena halal, making it suitable for Muslims to eat.
Hunting and consuming hyena meat are completely in line with Islamic Sharia law, according to the rebels, who control vast areas in the centre and south of the Horn of Africa country. And what al-Shabaab says in these parts is law.
In Kismayo in Lower Juba province, hyena meat is on sale in the market. But some of the locals are not sure they should eat it, and a
debate has started up.
"Hyena meat is so sweet and delicious. It is like you are eating meat from domestic livestock, like camel or goat, which Somalis have always eaten," said Abdi Dahir from Kismayo.
However, hyena meat remains far from popular. Islamic leaders in the country are split over what the Koran says about its consumption.
Market traders have scented profit. They are touting the healing properties of hyena meat, which is said to cure a wide range of ailments.
This has had the intended effect on price. A kilogram of hyena meat costs close to 5 dollars, a steep price for most housewives in a country where average annual income is under 300 dollars.
"It is really expensive. Camel meat is cheaper," says Sahra, a Kismayo woman. She says many Somalis are now starting to hunt the animals in the hope of cashing in on the new market.
The region's stock farmers are also grateful for al-Shabaab's decision, as hyenas pose a serious threat to their animals.
"Hyenas are very dangerous animals that hunt our livestock. And hyenas also eat people, so we are glad to see that people are now hunting the hyenas," says herdsman Ali Guret.
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