Brown hyena

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Brown hyena
Temporal range: Pliocene – Recent
Brown Hyena (Parahyaena brunnea) (6472926331).jpg
At the Gemsbok National Park, South Africa
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Hyaenidae
Genus: Hyaena
H. brunnea
Binomial name
Hyaena brunnea
Thunberg, 1820
Brown Hyaena area.png
Geographic range

Parahyena brunnea

The brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea), also called strandwolf, [2] is a species of hyena found in Namibia, Botswana, western and southern Zimbabwe, [3] southern Mozambique and South Africa. [4] It is currently the rarest species of hyena. [5] The largest remaining brown hyena population is located in the southern Kalahari Desert and coastal areas in Southwest Africa. [6] The global population of brown hyena is estimated by IUCN at a number between 4,000 and 10,000 and its conservation status is marked as near threatened in the IUCN Red List. [1]



The brown hyena inhabits desert areas, semi-desert, and open woodland savannahs. [7] It can survive close to urban areas by scavenging. The brown hyena favors rocky, mountainous areas, as they provide shade and it is not dependent on the ready availability of water sources for frequent drinking. [6] Home ranges are 233 to 466 km2 (90 to 180 sq mi) in size. [8]


A skull at the National Museum of Natural History, National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hyaena brunnea 1zz.jpg
A skull at the National Museum of Natural History, National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Brown hyenas are distinguished from other species by their long shaggy dark brown coat, pointed ears, and short tail. [9] Their legs are striped brown and white, and adults have a distinct cream-colored fur ruff around their necks. [10] Erectile hairs up to 305 mm (12.0 in) in length cover the neck and back and bristles during agonistic behavior. [4] Body length is 144 cm (57 in) on average with a range of 130–160 cm (51–63 in). [11] Shoulder height is 70–80 cm (28–31 in) and the tail is 25–35 cm (9.8–13.8 in) long. [1] Unlike the larger spotted hyena, there are no sizable differences between the sexes, [12] although males may be slightly larger than females. [4] An average adult male weighs 40.2–43.7 kg (89–96 lb), while an average female weighs 37.7–40.2 kg (83–89 lb). [4] Brown hyenas have powerful jaws. Young animals can crack the leg bones of springboks within five minutes of birth, though this ability deteriorates with age and dental wear. [5] The skulls of brown hyenas are larger than those of the more northern striped hyena, and their dentition is more robust, indicating a less generalized dietary adaptation. [13]


Brown hyena stealing springbok kill from cheetahs. Five cheetahs were feeding on a Springbok kill one morning in th (34407780271).jpg
Brown hyena stealing springbok kill from cheetahs.

Social behavior

Brown hyenas have a social hierarchy comparable to that of wolves, with a mated pair and their offspring. They live in clans composed of extended families of four to six individuals. [9] Clans defend their territory, and all members cooperate in raising cubs. [9] Territories are marked by 'pasting', [14] during which the hyena deposits secretions from its large anal gland, which is located below the base of the tail and produces a black and white paste, on vegetation and boulders. [7] Brown hyenas maintain a stable clan hierarchy through ritualized aggressive displays and mock fights. A brown hyena male can move up in rank by killing a higher ranking male in confrontation, while the alpha female is usually just the oldest female in the clan. [9] Emigration is common in brown hyena clans, particularly among young males, which will join other groups upon reaching adulthood. [4]

Reproduction and life cycle

The brown hyena does not have a mating season. [8] Female brown hyenas are polyestrous and typically produce their first litter when they are two years old. They mate primarily from May to August. Males and females in the same clan usually do not mate with each other, rather females will mate with nomadic males. [7] Clan males display no resistance to this behavior, and will assist the females in raising their cubs. [5] Females give birth in dens, which are hidden in remote sand dunes far from the territories of spotted hyenas and lions. The gestation period is around 3 months. [7] 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 other's cubs, though favoring their own. [5] Litters usually consist of 1–5 cubs, which weigh 1 kg (2.2 lb) at birth. [4] Unlike spotted hyenas, [5] brown hyenas are born with their eyes closed, and open them after eight days. Cubs are weaned at 12 months and leave their dens after 18 months. [4] Also unlike spotted hyenas, all adult members of the clan will carry food back to the cubs. [5] They are not fully weaned and do not leave the vicinity of their den until they reach 14 months of age. [4] Brown hyenas reach full size at an age of around 30 months [7] and have a life span of about 12 to 15 years. [8]

Dietary habits

Brown hyenas are primarily scavengers the bulk of whose diet consists of carcasses killed by larger predators, but they may supplement their diet with rodents, insects, eggs, fruit and fungi (the desert truffle Kalaharituber pfeilii). [15] They are however 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 korhaans constitute only 4.2% of their overall diet, [16] while on the Namib coast, cape fur seal pups compose 2.9% of their food. [17] They have an exceptional sense of smell and can locate carcasses kilometers away. [7] Brown hyenas are aggressive scavengers, frequently appropriating the kills of black-backed jackals, cheetahs, and leopards. [18] Single brown hyenas may charge at leopards with their jaws held wide open and can tree adult male leopards; [18] they have been observed treeing leopards even when no kill was in contention. [19] In the Kalahari Desert, brown hyenas are often the dominant mammalian carnivores present because of this dominance behavior and the relative scarcity of lions, spotted hyenas, and packs of African wild dogs. In areas where they overlap, brown hyenas may on rare occasions be killed by spotted hyenas and lions. [1]

In the Kalahari, 80% of a brown hyena's activity time is spent at night, searching for food in an area on spanning 31.1 km (19.3 mi) on average, with territories of 54.4 km (33.8 mi) having been recorded. [16] They may cache excess food in shrubs or holes and recover it within 24 hours. [4]

Threats and conservation status

The global population of brown hyena is estimated by IUCN at a number between 4,000 and 10,000. [6] [1] They are listed as near threatened in the IUCN Red List. [1] The major threat to brown Hyenas is human persecution based on the mistaken belief that they are harmful to livestock. Farmers will find hyenas scavenging on livestock carcasses and wrongly assume that hyenas have killed their property. [16] Brown hyena body parts are also occasionally used for traditional medicines and rituals, but the species is not as sought after as the spotted hyena. The brown hyena is not in high demand for trophy hunting. [6] The only major predator of hyenas is the African lion. Hyena cubs are especially susceptible to lion predation. [11]

There are several conservation areas that are home to the brown hyena, including the Etosha National Park in Namibia, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (South Africa/Botswana). [6] The maintenance of these protected areas aids in the conservation of these animals. Educational campaigns are being utilized to promote awareness about hyenas and dispel prevailing myths, while problem individuals are removed from farmlands and urbanized areas. [6]

Related Research Articles

Hyena family of carnivoran mammal

Hyenas or hyaenas are feliform carnivoran mammals of the family Hyaenidae. With only four extant species, it is the fifth-smallest biological family in the Carnivora, and one of the smallest in the class Mammalia. Despite their low diversity, hyenas are unique and vital components of most African ecosystems.

<i>Hyaena</i> genus of mammals in the order Carnivora

Hyaena is a genus comprising two of the living species of hyenas: the striped hyena from Western Asia, India, Central Asia, East Africa and Northern Africa and the brown hyena from Southern Africa. The brown hyena has sometimes been placed in a separate genus Parahyaena, or even included in the otherwise fossil genus Pachycrocuta, but recent sources have tended to place it in Hyaena.

Lion large cat native to Africa and Asia

The lion is a species in the family Felidae and a member of the genus Panthera. It has a muscular, deep-chested body, short, rounded head, round ears, and a hairy tuft at the end of its tail. It is sexually dimorphic; adult male lions have a prominent mane. With a typical head-to-body length of 184–208 cm (72–82 in) they are larger than females at 160–184 cm (63–72 in). It is a social species, forming groups called prides. A lion pride consists of a few adult males, related females and cubs. Groups of female lions usually hunt together, preying mostly on large ungulates. The lion is an apex and keystone predator; although some lions scavenge when opportunities occur and have been known to hunt humans, the species typically does not.

Leopard A large cat native to Africa and Eurasia

The leopard is one of the five extant species in the genus Panthera, a member of the Felidae. It occurs in a wide range in sub-Saharan Africa, in small parts of Western and Central Asia, on the Indian subcontinent to Southeast and East Asia. It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because leopard populations are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, and are declining in large parts of the global range. In Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuwait, Syria, Libya, Tunisia and most likely in Morocco, leopard populations have already been extirpated. Contemporary records suggest that the leopard occurs in only 25% of its historical global range.

Cheetah Large feline of the genus Acinonyx

The cheetah is a large cat native to Africa and central Iran. It is the fastest land animal, capable of running at 80 to 128 km/h, and as such has several adaptations for speed, including a light build, long thin legs and a long tail. Cheetahs typically reach 67–94 cm (26–37 in) at the shoulder, and the head-and-body length is between 1.1 and 1.5 m. Adults typically weigh between 20 and 65 kg. Its head is small, rounded, and has a short snout and black tear-like facial streaks. The coat is typically tawny to creamy white or pale buff and is mostly covered with evenly spaced, solid black spots. Four subspecies are recognised.

Common warthog Wild member of the pig family

The common warthog is a wild member of the pig family (Suidae) found in grassland, savanna, and woodland in sub-Saharan Africa. In the past, it was commonly treated as a subspecies of P. aethiopicus, but today that scientific name is restricted to the desert warthog of northern Kenya, Somalia, and eastern Ethiopia.

Honey badger Species of mammal

The honey badger, also known as the ratel, is a mammal widely distributed in Africa, Southwest Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Because of its wide range and occurrence in a variety of habitats, it is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

The glans is a vascular structure located at the tip of the penis in male mammals or a homologous genital structure of the clitoris in female mammals.

African buffalo Bovine species

The African buffalo or Cape buffalo is a large sub-Saharan African bovine. Syncerus caffer caffer, the Cape buffalo, is the typical subspecies, and the largest one, found in Southern and East Africa. S. c. nanus is the smallest subspecies, common in forest areas of Central and West Africa, while S. c. brachyceros is in West Africa and S. c. aequinoctialis is in the savannas of East Africa. The adult African buffalo's horns are its characteristic feature: they have fused bases, forming a continuous bone shield across the top of the head referred to as a "boss". It is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous animals on the African continent, and according to some estimates it gores, tramples, and kills over 200 people every year.

Striped hyena Species of hyena

The striped hyena is a species of hyena native to North and East Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It is listed by the IUCN as near-threatened, as the global population is estimated to be under 10,000 mature individuals which continues to experience deliberate and incidental persecution along with a decrease in its prey base such that it may come close to meeting a continuing decline of 10% over the next three generations. It is also the national animal of Lebanon.

Spotted hyena Species of hyena

The spotted hyena, also known as the laughing hyena, is a hyena species, currently classed as the sole extant member of the genus Crocuta, native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is listed as being of least concern by the IUCN on account of its widespread range and large numbers estimated between 27,000 and 47,000 individuals. The species is, however, experiencing declines outside of protected areas due to habitat loss and poaching. The species may have originated in Asia, and once ranged throughout Europe for at least one million years until the end of the Late Pleistocene. The spotted hyena is the largest known member of the Hyaenidae, and is further physically distinguished from other species by its vaguely bear-like build, its rounded ears, its less prominent mane, its spotted pelt, its more dual purposed dentition, its fewer nipples and the presence of a pseudo-penis in the female. It is the only mammalian species to lack an external vaginal opening.

Cape fox species of mammal

The Cape fox, also called the asse, cama fox or the silver-backed fox, is a small fox, native to southern Africa. It is also called a South African version of a fennec fox due to their big ears.

Greater kudu species of woodland antelope

The greater kudu is a woodland antelope found throughout eastern and southern Africa. Despite occupying such widespread territory, they are sparsely populated in most areas due to declining habitat, deforestation, and poaching. The greater kudu is one of two species commonly known as kudu, the other being the lesser kudu, T. imberbis.

Chacma baboon Species of baboon from the Old World monkey family

The chacma baboon, also known as the Cape baboon, is, like all other baboons, from the Old World monkey family. It is one of the largest of all monkeys. Located primarily in southern Africa, the chacma baboon has a wide variety of social behaviors, including a dominance hierarchy, collective foraging, adoption of young by females, and friendship pairings. These behaviors form parts of a complex evolutionary ecology. In general, the species is not threatened, but human population pressure has increased contact between humans and baboons. Hunting, trapping, and accidents kill or remove many baboons from the wild, thereby reducing baboon numbers and disrupting their social structure.

<i>Pachycrocuta</i> Genus of mammals (fossil)

Pachycrocuta was a genus of prehistoric hyenas. The largest and most well-researched species is Pachycrocuta brevirostris, colloquially known as the giant short-faced hyena as it stood about 90–100 cm (35–39 in) at the shoulder and it is estimated to have averaged 110 kg (240 lb) in weight, approaching the size of a lioness, making it the largest known hyena. Pachycrocuta first appeared during the late Miocene and became extinct during the middle Pleistocene, 400,000 years ago.

Giant forest hog species of mammal

The giant forest hog, the only member of its genus, is native to wooded habitats in Africa and is generally considered the largest wild member of the pig family, Suidae; however, a few subspecies of the wild boar can reach an even larger size. Despite its large size and relatively wide distribution, it was first described only in 1904. The specific name honours Richard Meinertzhagen, who shot the type specimen in Kenya and had it shipped to the Natural History Museum in England.

A pseudo-penis is any structure found on an animal that, while superficially appearing to be a penis, is derived from a different developmental path.

Red hartebeest subspecies of African grassland antelope

The red hartebeest is a species of even-toed ungulate in the family Bovidae found in Southern Africa. More than 130,000 individuals live in the wild. The red hartebeest is closely related to the tsessebe and the topi.

African wild dog species of canid native to Sub-Saharan Africa

The African wild dog, also called the painted dog, or Cape hunting dog, is a canine native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is the largest indigenous canine in Africa, and the only extant member of the genus Lycaon, which is distinguished from Canis by dentition highly specialised for a hypercarnivorous diet, and a lack of dewclaws. It is estimated that about 6,600 adults including 1,400 mature individuals live in 39 subpopulations that are all threatened by habitat fragmentation, human persecution and outbreaks of diseases. As the largest subpopulation probably consists of less than 250 individuals, the African wild dog is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List since 1990.

Infanticide is the killing of a neonate after birth. In zoology, this commonly refers to the killing and in some cases consumption of newborn animals by either a parent or an unrelated adult of the species. In carnivores, it is not uncommon for an unrelated male to commit infanticide to make females sexually receptive. Parental infanticide is sometimes a result of extreme stress by human intrusion.


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