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Brown Hyena: Is This Animal Endangered?

The brown hyena is also known as a strand wolf. It is a species found in Namibia, Botswana, western and southern Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique, and South Africa. It is also currently the rarest species of hyena there is.

Read on below for more information about this rare species, including a description, how it compares to other hyena species, where it lives, and what it prefers to eat.

Brown Hyena Stats

  • Status: Near threatened 
  • Known as: Brown hyena, Brown Hyaena
  • Estimated numbers left in the wild: 5,000 to 8,000
  • Height: An adult brown hyena at its shoulders can be between 2.3 and 2.6 feet

Description and Brown Hyena Size

A Brown Hyena standing at a waterhole

There is no denying that the brown hyena 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 hyena has large, pointed ears over a grey-furred face. There is almost no difference in the brown hyena size or appearance between the sexes. However, at a top weight of approximately 94 pounds, the adult males are just several pounds heavier than the adult females.

Brown Hyena vs Spotted Hyena

Close up of spotted Hyena

When comparing the brown hyena vs spotted hyena, you will find a few notable differences. The brown hyena, for example, is smaller than a spotted hyena. They also have pointed ears and a different coat and coloring compared to the brown hyena.

The brown hyena has a longer brown and shaggy coat compared to the spotted coat of a spotted hyena with flat gray fur and dark spots. Spotted hyenas are also considered clan animals and are often dominated by a female hyena.

The female spotted hyenas tend to be bigger, heavier, and stronger than their male counterparts because of their testosterone production.

Spotted hyenas are also extremely territorial and have been known to engage in fights with other clans that can last hours. The females leave the den site to mate with hyenas in neighboring areas, which keeps their gene pool more diverse.

In comparison, the female brown hyena mates with wandering males, which you will learn more about below. Another notable difference between the brown hyena vs spotted hyena is the vocalization each makes.

The spotted hyena is also often called the laughing hyena because its sounds are similar to the maniacal laughter of a human. These giggles or calls, however, are not used by brown hyenas.

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Clan Structure

Brown Hyena

The brown hyena lives in family units called clans, which will consist of up to 6 hyenas on average. 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 brown hyena clan are impregnated by wandering males, who may or may not join the clan.

After a gestation period of approximately 3 months, 1 to 3 young is born. The mother cares for them exclusively for several months before leaving the den to join the rest of the clan.

Brown hyenas establish clan territories that they mark with feces 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 territory’s boundary.

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Hunting and Scavenging

As the brown hyena is primarily a scavenger, it has extremely powerful teeth and jaws to crack open bones to access the marrow. These hyenas 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 hyena will also eat eggs, birds, fruit, and rodents. Brown hyenas inhabit semiarid regions and deserts as well as open woodlands. Some brown hyenas live on the coast and have access to seal pups and seal carcasses.

These hyenas travel long distances on their nightly excursions for food, sometimes up to 21 miles. Their acute sense of smell allows them to detect carrion kilometers.

In the distance, and except for bringing back food for the cubs, brown hyenas do not carry the meat back for the rest of the clan.

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Brown Hyena Habitat

Brown hyena portrait

The brown hyena 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.

The brown hyena prefers desert areas, semi-desert areas, and open woodland savannahs. They can also survive nearby urban areas by scavenging.

They also navigate toward rocky and mountainous areas where there is plenty of shade and where they don’t have to be as dependent on the availability of local water sources.

During the day, adult brown hyenas will sleep under bushes, trees, and rocks to avoid becoming overheated. Brown hyenas are nocturnal animals, and the adults hunt on their own.

Most brown hyena clans include several hyenas that are actually related to each other. However, the alpha male of the clan typically comes from elsewhere.

When defecating, they use latrine sites located throughout their territory. These locations are often near their den, killing sites, or territorial boundaries. Communication and scent markings are also used in these locations between clan members.

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Brown Hyena Diet and Nutrition

Brown Hyena holding prey in mouth

Since brown hyenas are carnivores and scavengers, they are also considered highly opportunistic feeders. While carrion is the primary food source in their diet, they also catch smaller animals like small mammals, birds, fish, and even insects.

In addition to the meat, they will also include fruit like desert melons or fungi, vegetables, and eggs in their diet.

Mating Habits

We have already covered some of the brown hyena’s mating habits above, but let’s get into more specifics. Their reproductive season is between the months of May and August. The full pregnancy duration for these animals is around 90 days, and they can carry one to four cubs at a time.

The age the cub becomes more independent is 15 months old. This is when the cub is weaned. They reach maturity between two and three years old. The males often leave the den while the females choose to remain within the clan.

Males often present one of two mating systems: polygynous and polyandrous. In a polygynous system, mating stays within the clan-based system. This happens when the alpha male is a non-relative from another clan and mates with the females in the clan.

The other system occurs when a nomadic male enters the clan’s territory. In this system, female brown hyenas can mate with up to four different males, breeding about every 12 to 41 months.

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Conservation Status of the Brown Hyena

The conservation status of the brown hyena is Near Threatened. There are only between 4,000 and 10,000 left as estimated by the IUCN.


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.

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Conservation Efforts

Education of local people has helped to curb the wholesale killing of brown hyaenas. As there are hyaenas that do attack and kill livestock, removing the ‘criminal element’ generally solves the problem. It 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.

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Do you know of or are you a part of an organization that works to conserve the Brown Hyena? Then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.

Other Hyena Facts You Will Find Interesting

Brown hyena side view

Here are a few other hyena facts you can keep in mind as you learn more about these animals:

  1. The hyenas pictured in the Lion King were actually spotted hyenas, not brown hyenas. They are also known as Crocuta crocuta and belong to the family of Hyaenidae. Rewatch the movie. You will see that the clan is run by a single alpha-female spotted hyena.
  2. The brown hyena has the scruffiest appearance out of the three hyena species with its pointed ears and a long shaggy coat
  3. Hyenas are well-known for their howl because it sounds like a hysterical human laugh. This noise may be the hyena’s way to express excitement or nervousness and is also a sound made when they are on the prowl for food. When they kill their prey, the entire hyena clan can produce this maniacal laughter. However, brown hyenas and striped hyenas don’t have this kind of vocalization. Instead, they use grunts or yips.
  4. One-third of male brown hyenas are nomads after leaving their birth clan.
  5. The group name for brown hyenas is either clan or cackle.

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Brown Hyena FAQ

We have already learned so much about the brown hyena, but you still may have some questions. Below you will find answers to some of the more commonly asked questions regarding the brown hyena.

How social are brown hyenas?

The brown hyena has a social hierarchy that is very similar to that of wolves. They live in clans that include extended families with four to six individuals.
The clans work together to defend their territory, and all cooperate to raise the brown hyena cubs. Other hyena species can live in social groups containing up to 130 members.

What sound do brown hyenas make?

The brown hyena is considered the rarest hyena species and is known for its seldom vocalization. The brown hyena can make small grunts, growls, and squeaks that can be heard over a short distance. They do not use the characteristic “laughter” vocalizations that you can hear in a spotted hyena clan.

When are brown hyenas most active?

Since brown hyenas are nocturnal, they are most active at night. They can travel up to 25 miles at night on the hunt for food.
What class of animal does a brown hyena belong to? Brown hyenas are considered mammals. They are the fifth-smallest biological family in the Carnivora. Although they look closely related to dogs, they are actually much more similar and related to cats.

How long do brown hyenas live?

Brown hyenas can live between 12 and 15 years old. They reach full maturity by 30 months. Some animals found in captivity have been seen to have a longer lifespan.

Do brown hyenas have predators?

The brown hyena is a scavenger and gets most of its food from scavenging dead animal carcasses that were already taken down by larger predators, including leopards, cheetahs, and jackals. Some have found spotted hyenas and lions hunting down brown hyenas in Africa. They have been found to kill them as they would any other prey.

How fast can a brown hyena run?

A brown hyena can run up to 37 mph, which is around the same speed at which a spotted hyena can also run. The striped hyena, on the other hand, is the slowest.

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