Brown Hyena

Status: Near threatened Near threathened - small

Known as: Brown hyena, Brown Hyaena

Estimated numbers left in wild: 5,000 to 8,000.


There is no denying that the brown hyaena is not among Nature’s more elegant creatures; not only does it have the large head, muscular shoulders, and sloping hindquarters of its cousins, but it also has a shaggy, untidy brown coat. The long hairs on the neck, shoulders, and back can be raised when the animal is agitated. The brown hyaena has large, pointed ears over a grey-furred face. There is almost no difference in size or appearance between the sexes in the brown hyaena, although at a top weight of 43 kilograms, the males are just several kilos heavier than the females.

Hunting and scavenging: As the brown hyaena is primarily a scavenger, it has extremely powerful teeth and jaws to allow it to crack open bones to access the marrow. These hyaenas generally search for carrion alone, because most of their finds are small and scarce, but will sometimes form larger groups when a large carcass is available. In addition to offal, the brown hyaena will also eat eggs, birds, fruit, and rodents. Brown hyaenas inhabit semiarid regions and deserts as well as open woodlands. Some brown hyaenas live on the coast and have access to seal pups and seal carcasses.

These hyaenas travel long distances on their nightly excursions for food, sometimes up to 35 kilometres. Their acute sense of smell allows them to detect carrion kilometres. in the distance, and except for bringing back food for the cubs, brown hyaenas do not carry meat back for the rest of the clan.

Clan structure: The brown hyaena lives in family units called clans, which will consist of up to 6 hyaenas. The cubs are protected and raised by all members of the clan. Males never mate with clan females, but leave to find females in other clans. Females in a clan are impregnated by wandering males, which may or may not actually join the clan. After a gestation period of approximately 3 months, 1 to 3 young are born. The mother cares for them exclusively for several months before they leave the den to join the rest of the clan.

Brown Hyena Range Map

Yellow: Extant (resident)
(Source IUCN Red List)

Brown hyaenas establish clan territories, which they mark with faeces and a secretion (paste) from their anal glands. The latter is black and white and is deposited on grass stems at regular intervals to mark the boundary of the territory.

Location: The brown hyaena is found in the southern part of Africa, specifically in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, and Angola. They are the climax predators in the Namib Coast Desert.


Near threathened

Threats: The appearance and habits of the brown hyaena have made it the target of superstition and disgust. Farmers in the regions where it lives often shoot, trap, or poison it for killing livestock, although it very rarely does so. Besides persecution, the brown hyaena is also used in native rituals and for traditional medicines.

Conservation efforts: Education of local people has helped to curb wholesale killing of brown hyaenas. As there are hyaenas that do attack and kill livestock, the removal of the ‘criminal element’ generally solves the problem and allows the rest of the hyaenas to survive without persecution. The range of the brown hyaena extends through several parks and game reserves, which gives the animals a high level of protection.


Do you know of or are you a part of an organisation that work to conserve the Brown Hyena, then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.

Hyena Species

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