10 cool things about the brown hyena

The brown hyena is found in the southern parts of Africa – from South Africa and parts of Namibia to Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. While they enjoy habitats of grasslands and savannahs, brown hyenas are also able to survive in semi-desert regions.

Hyenas are not dogs and they’re not cats either – they are a unique species so scientists have placed them in their own family group, called Hyaenidae. There are four members in the family – the spotted hyena (yes, the gang from The Lion King), the brown hyena, the striped hyena and the aardwolf. Did you know that the collective noun for a group of hyenas is a clan or a cackle of hyenas?

The brown hyena is smaller than his spotted cousin and weighs between 38 and 45kg. His front legs are longer than his back legs and this gives the impression that his back slopes downwards. As his name suggests, this hyena has long, brown, shaggy fur covering his entire body.

His chest and neck area are lighter in colour. His upper legs are also brown and the lower legs alternate with bands of dark and light coloured fur. His ears are pricked and his muzzle is short and broad. He has four toes on each foot.
Photo: EcoPrint

Brown hyenas do not have a specific breeding season and can have cubs at any time of the year. The mother hyena gives birth to two to four cubs after a gestation period of three months. For the first few weeks of life, the cubs live in a secluded den and are cared for by their mother. She moves them to the family den when they are between two and three months of age. Here they are cared for by all clan members, but they still continue to nurse until they are around 15 months old.                    Photo: Erwin Niemand

Brown hyena clans are small – usually a solitary female and her offspring, or a few females and their cubs. Males rarely live in the clan and male juveniles leave the clan at around 18 to 24 months of age.

Hyenas play a role in keeping the bushveld clean – they make sure that no part of the kills made by larger predators are wasted. Their jaws and teeth are powerful and perfectly designed to crush bone to get to the nutrient-rich marrow inside the hollow cavity.

Brown hyenas are sly, nocturnal animals. The clan breaks up at night and individuals move off to scavenge or hunt for food alone. Brown hyenas eat carrion, insects and birds and supplement their diets with fruit and eggs. Brown hyenas also kill live prey but hunt alone, not in groups.
Photo: Johan Swanepoel

The brown hyena clan will join up again at dawn and spend the day together, lying in a shady thicket, in underground dens or in tall grass. If food is scarce, they become
more active in the day and may walk many kilometres – as much as 60km – to find food.

They do not giggle or cackle like their spotted cousins, but brown hyenas do use various vocalisations to communicate with other clan members. They also use scent
marking to convey messages within their territory and to keep rival clans out. They use a secretion from their anal glands to mark bushes, trees and rocks.

The brown hyena is listed on the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened. The total world population is believed to be around 5,000 to 8,000 individuals. In the past, brown hyenas have been targeted as many believed them to be a threat to livestock.

Trapping, poisoning and killing for traditional medicines has resulted in the decline of population numbers. Brown hyenas may also be found on the outskirts of towns and cities where they come to search for food. They are shy and elusive and should be left alone.
Photo: EcoPrint


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