Parahyaena brunnea (Thunberg, 1820)
Photo: Doug Lee
IUCN Conservation Status:
Lower Risk, near threatened (LR/nt).
Surveys by the Hyaena Specialist Group of the IUCN/SSC in 2006 indicated a global population of between 5 000 and 8 000 of which approximately 1 000 are in Namibia. Hunting and trading of brown hyaena and its products are currently strictly forbidden by the international legislation of CITES.
Early Dutch settlers in the Cape called it strandwolf, “beach wolf”, because of its habit of strolling along the tidal zone of beaches in search of food.
The taxonomy of the hayenas has changed several times and the relationship between the extant four species is still in dispute.
• Parahyaena brunnea the brown hyaena
• Crocuta crocuta the spotted hyaena
• Hyaena hyaena the striped hyaena
• Proteles cristatus the aardwolf of the subfamily Protelinae,
Fossilized remains indicate the existence of at least 24 hyaena genera that were widely distributed across Eurasia and Africa during the late Miocene epoch. These were divided into two consecutive, major groups. The first group consisted of the small jackal-like hyaenas, which were similar to the present mongooses and civets and had rudimentary jaws and a poor dentition. The second group contained the greater bone-cracking or hunting hyaenas, which developed jaws and teeth for cracking open large bones such as bovine femurs. The hyaena apparently diverged from the cats approximately 29 million years BP during the Oligocene, somewhere in Eurasia, where they shared a common, civet-like pre-ancestor. The Hyaenidae family developed to its full extent during a moist, warm era that prevailed in most of Europe, Asia and Africa during the early Miocene.
Only one hyaena genus Chasmaporthetes dispersed from Eurasia into North America and none into South America or Australia. Several genera migrated across the Gomphothere land-bridge into Africa in the late Miocene. The genera Hyaena, Parahyaena and Crocuta evolved in Africa in the late Pliocene, the brown hyaena originating in East Africa and spreading to southern Africa. The striped hyaena diverged much later than the brown hyaena and spread from East Africa into Asia where it is still found today. The most widely distributed hyaena at present, the large spotted hyaena, is the youngest member. It developed 9 000 years BP from its ancestor Crocuta ultra that evolved in Africa approximately 3.5 million years BP. C. ultra spread to Europe and Asia and gave rise to the cave hyaena C. spelaea that became extinct in the late Pleistocene.
A typical Hyaenid profile of high shoulders and a sloping back. It is third tallest of the four extant hyaena species, the smallest being the aardwolf. The head, neck and shoulders are large in relation to the rest of the body. The body is entirely covered with exceptionally long hair of 12-17 cm; unevenly dark brown, with yellowish-brown to cream-white shades over the shoulders and neck. The upper legs are horizontally striped in cream-yellow, and the tail, muzzle and ear tips are black. The large ears are 14 cm long, are pointed and almost always upright. Adult body mass is reached at 30-35 months and maximum body size at 40-72 months, after which time the body size begins to reduce with age.
Comparison To Man
The brown hyaena is protected by CITES and is therefore not recognized as a trophy animal in official trophy registers.
The brown hyaena prefers beaches and the vicinity of inland rivers and smaller drainage lines. It is not associated with a particular vegetation type, but rather with arid and semi-arid regions with a mean annual rainfall of between 80-300 mm. Solitary nomads may be found in highveld grasslands with an annual rainfall of up to 650 mm; higher rainfall areas are avoided. Common landscape habitats include desert, the Kalahari, dry savannah and both sweet and mixed, temperate grasslands with sparse low shrubs. It is independent of surface drinking water.
Feeding & Nutrition
Brown hyaenas are predominantly active at night when clan members split up to hunt and scavenge alone. They take refuge during daytime under thicket, in underground holes, in tall grass patches, under debris or between large rocks. When food is limited they become increasingly more active during the day. It is predominantly a scavenger, especially of rotten flesh. They rarely hunt prey such as hares, foxes, game birds and lambs of small antelope. The success rate of hunts is only 4-6% and hunted kills account for 4% of the consumed diet. It moves 30-55 km per night and up to 40 km from its den. Wild fruits and fleshy bulbs are also consumed but mainly for the moisture content, vitamins and minerals. For example, 22 tsammas provide an equal energy of 1 kg of meat. Other dietary components include insects, small birds, rodents, reptiles, ostrich eggs and seal carcasses that are washed up on the shore line. Brown hyaena can consume up to 8 kg of flesh at one time, while the daily intake is estimated at 1.5-3 kg. Pieces of meat and bones are carried away and hidden for later consumption. The total diet consists of 40% vegetative material, 56% carrion and 2.5-4% prey.
A gregarious, socialized
animal that becomes temporarily solitary when searching for food.
Social clans vary from 4-18 individuals and comprise of adult females,
adult residential males, sub-adults of both genders and cubs, all
sharing the same communal den and home range. A clan has several dens
in the home range and alternates between dens every 3.6 months. Some
sub-adult males leave the clan and become non-residential, solitary
nomads. The most dominant female becomes the alpha female that breeds
with an external alpha male residing temporarily with the clan. Clan
members meet frequently while roaming and hunting, and display a
complex greeting ritual named as “necking“. Nomad alpha males dominate
the residential beta males of a clan briefly while they are resident.
Several brown hyaenas from different clans may tolerate each other at
large carcasses, especially close to the home range boundaries. Home
range sizes are not static and vary with changes in food abundance.
Overlapping between an adjacent clan’s home range is <20%. Solitary
nomads do not have fixed ranges and can cover distances of up to 2 000
km in as little as 3 months.
The alpha-females of >2.5 years, do not mate with the adult residential beta-males of <3 years in the clan. A nomad alpha-male of >5 years drifting between clans picks up the scent of an ovulating female at a considerable distance, as well as her pasted scent markings. He only copulates with an alpha female and then stays in the clan for an undetermined period. Peripheral immigrant beta-males of 2-5 years might mate with beta-females but their offspring is inferior to that of the alpha-pair and they have a limited survival potential. Sub-adult females assist in the nurturing of the adult female’s pups and carry food items back to the den for the young. Sub-adult males and some sub-adult females leave the clan at an age of 18-22 months to join other clans or to establish a new clan.
|Brown Hyaena information table
|Adult body weight
|Adult shoulder height
|Total body length (snout to tail)
|Age of sexual maturity
|Age of social adulthood (1st mating)
|1st litter born at
|Independent at age
|Gender ratio: Natural (all ages)
|Mating ratio: Natural (adults)
Absolute minimum number needed
Smallest viable population size
||Gregarious groups (clans)
|Spatial behaviour: Home range
unlimited (>2 000)
|Spatial behaviour: Territory range
|Daily food consumption (adults)
|Maximum stocking load
||Determined by prey animal abundance
|Minimum habitat size required
|Annual population growth
|Optimal annual rainfall
|Optimal vegetation structure:
Woody canopy cover:
- Bothma, J du P, 2000. Bruinhiëna, Wild & Jag 6(11).
- Bothma, J du P, Nel, JAJ and MacDonald A, 1984. Food niche separation between four sympatric Namib Desert carnivores. Journal of Zoology, London 202:327-340.
- Brown Hyena Research Project, Skeleton Coast, Luderitz. http://www.strandwolf.org.za/home.htm
- Brown Hyena Survival Trust. email@example.com
- Burgener N & Gusset M, 2003. The feeding habits of brown hyaenas (Hyaena brunnea) on a game ranch in Limpopo Province, South Africa. African Zoology 38: 181-184.
- Eaton, RL, 1976. The brown hyena: a review of biology status and conservation. Mammalia 40:377-399. Ensley, PK, Wing, AE, Gosink, BB, Lasley, BL and Durrant, B, 1982. Application of noninvasive techniques to monitor reproductive function in a brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea). Zoo Biology 1:333-343.
- Furstenburg, D, 2003. Bruinhiëna. Wild & Jag 9(11).
- Goss, RA, 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.
- IUCN, 2006. IUCN Red list of Threatened Species, Gland, Switzerland: IUCN/SSC, 2008, Hyaena Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland.
- Kingdon, J, 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
- Kingdon, J, 1979. East African Mammals, Vol. IIIA, Carnivores: An atlas of evolution in Africa. Academic Press, London.
- Maddock, AH, 1993. Analysis of brown hyena (Hyena brunnea) scats from the central Karoo, South Africa. 1. Journal of Zoology, London 231:679-683.
- Maude, G & Mills, MGL, 2005. The comparative feeding ecology of the brown hyaena in a cattle area and a national park in Botswana. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 35: 201-214.
- Mills, MGL, 1976. Ecology and behaviour of the brown hyaena in the Kalahari with some suggestions for management. Proceedings of a Symposium on Endangered Wildlife. Endangered Wildlife Trust, Pretoria, July 1976:36-42.
- Mills, MGL, 1977. Diet and foraging behaviour of the brown hyaena, Hyaena brunnea in the southern Kalahari. M.Sc. Thesis, University of Pretoria.
- Mills, MGL 1978. Foraging behaviour of the brown hyaena (Hyaena brunnea Thunberg,1820) in the Southern Kalahari. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 48:113-141.
- Mills, MGL, 1978. The comparative socio-ecology of the hyaenidae. Carnivore 1:1-6. Mills, MGL, 1982. Notes on age determination, growth and measurements of brown hyenas, Hyaena brunnea, from the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, South Africa. Koedoe 25:55-62.
- Mills, MGL, 1982. Hyaena brunnea. Mammalian Species 194:1-5.
- Mills, MGL, 1982. Factors affecting group size and territory size of the Brown hyaena, Hyaena brunnea, in the southern Kalahari. Journal of Zoology, London 198:39-51.
- Mills, MGL, 1982. The mating system of the brown hyaena, Hyaena brunnea in the southern Kalahari. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 10:131-136.
- Mills, MGL, 1983. Mating and denning behavior of the brown hyena Hyaena brunnea and comparisons with other Hyaenidae. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 63:331-342.
- Mills, MGL, 1983. Behavioural mechanisms in territory and group maintenance of the brown hyaena, Hyaena brunnea, in the Southern Kalahari. Animal Behaviour 31:503-510.
- Mills, MGL, 1984. The comparative behavioural ecology of the brown hyaena, Hyaena brunnea, and the spotted hyaena, Crocuta crocuta, in the southern Kalahari. Koedoe 27(Supplement):237-247.
- Mills, MGL, 1987. Behavioral adaptations of brown and spotted hyaenas in the Southern Kalahari. South African Journal of Science 83:595-598.
- Mills, MGL, 1990. Kalahari hyaenas: the comparative behavioural ecology of two species. Unwin Hyman, London.
- Mills, MGL, Gorman, ML and Mills MEJ, 1980. The scent marking behavior of the brown hyena Hyaena brunnea. South African Journal of Zoology 15:240-248.
- Mills, MGL and Mills, MEJ, 1978. Diet of the brown hyena Hyaena brunnea in the southern Kalahari, South Africa. Koedoe 21:125-150.
- Mills, MGL and Mills, MEJ, 1982b. Factors affecting the movement patterns of brown hyaenas, Hyaena brunnea, in the southern Kalahari. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 12:111-117.
- Mills, MGL and Hofer, H (eds.), 1992. Hyaenas: Status Survey & Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Hyaena Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland Switzerland.
- Owens, DD and Owens, MJ, 1996. Social dominance and reproduction patterns in brown hyaenas, Hyaena brunnea, of the central Kalahari Desert. Animal Behaviour 51:535-551.
- Owens, MJ and Owens, DD, 1978. Feeding ecology and its influence on social organization in Brown hyenas (Hyaena brunnea, Thunberg) of the Central Kalahari Desert. East African Wildlife Journal 16:113-135.
- Rohland, N, Pollack, JL, Nagel, D, Beauval, C, Airvaux J, Paabo, S & Hofreiter, M, 2005. The population history of extant and extinct hyenas. Mol. Biol. Evol,. 22: 2435-2443.
- Skead, CJ, 1987. Historical Mammal incidence in the Cape, Vol 1 & 2, Government Printer, Cape Town.
- Skinner, JD 1976. Ecology of the brown hyaena Hyaena brunnea in the Transvaal with a distribution map for Southern Africa. South African Journal of Science 72: 262-269.
- Skinner, JD and Ilani, G, 1979. The striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena of the Judean and Negev Deserts and a comparison with the brown hyaena H. brunnea. Israel Journal of Zoology 28:229-232.
- Skinner, JD and van Aarde, RJ, 1981. The distribution and ecology of the brown hyaena Hyaena brunnea and spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta in the central Namib desert. Madoqua 12:231-239.
- Skinner, JD & van Aarde, RJ, 1987. Range use by brown hyaenas, Hyaena brunnea, relocated in an agricultural area of the Transvaal. Journal of Zoology, London 212:350-352.
- Skinner, JD & van Aarde, RJ, 1991. Bone collecting by brown hyenas, Hyaena brunnea, in the central Namib desert, Namibia. Journal of archaeological Science 18:513-524.
- Skinner, JD, Van Aarde RJ & Goss, RA, 1995. Space and resource use by brown hyaenas in the Namib desert. J. Zool., Lond. 237.
- Skinner, JD & Chimba, CT, 2005. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion, 3rd edn. Cambridge University Press.
- Smithers, R.H.N. 1983. The mammals of the Southern African subregion. University of Pretoria, Pretoria.
- Stuart, C.T. 1977. The distribution, status, feeding and reproduction of carnivores of the Cape Province. Department of Nature and Environmental Conservation Research Report, Mammals 1977:91-174.
- Stuart, C.T. 1981. Notes on the mammalian carnivores of the Cape Province, South Africa. Bontebok 1:1-58.
- Stuart, C.T., Macdonald, I.A.W., and Mills M.G.L. 1985. History, current status and conservation of large mammalian predators in Cape Province, Republic of South Africa. Biological Conservation 31:7-19.
- Ward, R, 2006. Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game, 27tth edn. Rowland Ward Publications.
- Werdelin, L. and Solounias, N. 1990. Studies of fossil hyaenids: the genus Adcrocuta and the interrelationships of some hyaenid taxa. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 98:363-386.
- Werdelin, L. and Solounias, N. 1991. The Hyaenidae: taxonomy, systematics and evolution. Fossils and Strata 30:1-104.
- Werdelin, L. and Solounias, N. 2008. The evolutionary history of hyaenas in Europe and western Asia during the Miocene. In: Bernor, RL and Fahlbusch, V (eds.) Later neogene European biotic evolution and stratigraphic correlation. Columbia University Press, New York.
- Wilson, D E & Reeder, DM, 1993. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonimic and Geographic Reference. 2nd edn., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.