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Brown Hyena
Fossil range: Pliocene - Recent
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Hyaenidae
Genus: Hyaena
Species: H. brunnea
Binomial name
Hyaena brunnea
Thunberg, 1820

The Brown Hyena (Hyaena brunnea, formerly Parahyaena brunnea) is a species of hyena which occurs in Namibia, Botswana, western and southern Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique and South Africa.[2] It is currently the rarest hyena.[3]



Brown hyenas measure 70.6-86.8 cm in shoulder height, and weigh between 35-50 kg. Unlike the larger spotted hyena, there are no sizeable differences between the sexes,[4] though males may be slightly larger than the females.[2] The coat is long and shaggy, particularly on the tail and back.[4] The general fur colour is dark brown, while the head is grey, the upper body tawny and the legs grey with dark horizontal stripes. Erectile hairs 305 mm in length cover the neck and back.[2] Brown hyenas have powerful jaws: young specimens can crack the leg bones of springboks in five minutes, though this ability deteriorates with age as their teeth gradually wear.[3] The skulls of brown hyenas are larger than those of the more northern striped hyenas, and their dentition is more robust, indicating less generalised dietary adaptations.[5] Brown hyenas possess an anal pouch below the base of the tail, which produces a black and white paste. The pouch has a groove, coated with a white secretion, which divides a pair of lobes which produce a black secretion. These secretions are deposited on grass stalks roughly every quarter mile of their feeding grounds, particularly around territorial borders.[3]



Social behavior

Brown hyenas are social animals that may live in clans consisting of one adult of each sex and associated young, though there are reports of clans composed of four males and six females. It is thought that in the latter situation, there is at least one dominant male. Brown hyenas maintain a stable clan hierarchy through ritualised aggressive displays and mock fights. They typically forage alone, and do not maintain a territory, instead using common hunting paths. Emigration is common in brown hyena clans, particularly among young males, which will join other groups upon reaching adulthood.[2]


Brown hyena cub

Female brown hyenas are polyestrous and typically produce their first litter on their second year. They mate mainly from May to August, the gestation period lasting 97 days.[2] Unlike aardwolves, female brown hyenas mate with nomadic males rather than with male members of their own clan. Clan males display no resistance, and will assist the females in raising their cubs.[3] Females give birth in dens, which are hidden in remote sand dunes far from the territories of spotted hyenas and lions. Mothers generally produce one litter every 20 months. Usually, only the dominant female breeds, but if two litters are born in the same clan, the mothers will nurse each others cubs, though favouring their own.[3] Litters usually consist of 1-5 cubs, which weigh 1 kg at birth.[2] Unlike spotted hyenas,[3] brown hyenas are born with their eyes closed, and open them after eight days. Cubs leave their dens after three months.[2] Also unlike spotted hyenas, all adult members of the clan will carry food back to the cubs.[3] They are not fully weaned and do not leave the vicinity of their den until they reach 14 months of age.[2]

Dietary habits

Brown hyenas are primarily scavengers, the bulk of their diet consisting of carcasses killed by larger predators, though they may supplement their diet with rodents, insects, eggs and fruit. They will cache excess food in shrubs or holes and recover it within 24 hours.[2] Brown hyenas are poor hunters, and live prey makes up only a small proportion of their diet: in the southern Kalahari, species such as springhare, springbok lambs, bat-eared foxes and korhaan species make up only 4.2% of their overall diet[6], while on the Namib coast, cape fur seal pups compose 2.9% of the brown hyenas dietary intake.[7] In the Kalahari, brown hyenas are active 80% of the time at night searching for food in an area spanning 31.1 km, with 54.4 km being recorded.[6] Their powerful sense of smell allows them to track even dry carcasses 2 km downwind.[6]


  1. ^ Wiesel, I., Maude, G., Scott, D. & Mills, G. (2008). Hyaena brunnea. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 13 May 2009. Database entry includes justification for why this species is near threatened
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Walker's carnivores of the world by Ronald M. Nowak, published by JHU Press, 2005
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Chapter 4: Rich Man's Table from David MacDonald’s The Velvet Claw BBC books, 1992
  4. ^ a b The behavior guide to African mammals: including hoofed mammals, carnivores, primates by Richard Estes, published by the University of California Press, 1991
  5. ^ V.G Heptner & A.A. Sludskii. Mammals of the Soviet Union, Volume II, Part 2. ISBN 9004088768. 
  6. ^ a b c Mills, M.G.L. 1990. Kalahari hyaenas: the comparative behavioural ecology of two species. Unwin Hyman, London.
  7. ^ Goss, R.A. 1986. The influence of food source on the behavioural ecology of brown hyaenas Hyaena brunnea in the Namib Desert. MSc thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria.

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