These photos by Pieter Hugo are quite possibly unlike anything you've ever seen. The jaw-dropping images feature performers in Nigeria, made up of a group of men, a little girl, three hyenas, four monkeys, and a few rock pythons. The animal handlers are all related to each other and use the animals to entertain crowds and sell traditional medicines, a tradition passed down from generation to generation.
What Hugo found fascinating was the hybridisation of the urban and the wild, and the paradoxical relationship that the handlers had with their animals - sometimes affectionate, sometimes brutal and cruel.
Observers have had varying responses to the images, including inquisitiveness, disbelief, and repulsion. Many animal-rights groups have contacted Hugo, wanting him to intervene even though the keepers obtained permits from the Nigerian government. When he asked locals how they felt about the way the performers treated the animals, the question confused people. Their responses always involved issues of economic survival. Seldom did anyone express strong concern for the well-being of the creatures.
"Europeans invariably only ask about the welfare of the animals but this question misses the point," Hugo says. "Instead, perhaps, we could ask why these performers need to catch wild animals to make a living. Or why they are economically marginalized. Or why Nigeria, the world’s sixth largest exporter of oil, is in such a state of disarray."
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