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Editorial Office, E. Brown Hyena. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 23 April 2024).
Editorial Office E. Brown Hyena. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 23, 2024.
Editorial Office, Encyclopedia. "Brown Hyena" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 23, 2024).
Editorial Office, E. (2024, February 28). Brown Hyena. In Encyclopedia.
Editorial Office, Encyclopedia. "Brown Hyena." Encyclopedia. Web. 28 February, 2024.
Brown Hyena

The Brown Hyena (Parahyaena brunnea) is a fascinating and elusive species found primarily in southern Africa's arid and semi-arid regions. Distinguished by its shaggy brown coat and robust build, this carnivore occupies a unique ecological niche as a scavenger and occasional hunter, feeding on a diverse range of prey items, carrion, and plant matter. Despite its solitary and nocturnal nature, the Brown Hyena plays a crucial role in ecosystem dynamics and is of cultural significance to local communities across its range.

Brown Hyena animals strandwolf

1. Introduction

The Brown Hyena (Parahyaena brunnea) (Figure 1) stands as a captivating and enigmatic carnivore inhabiting the arid and semi-arid regions of southern Africa. Characterized by its shaggy brown fur, robust build, and distinctive sloping back, this species occupies a specialized ecological niche as a scavenger, primarily feeding on carrion but also supplementing its diet with small prey, fruits, and vegetation. Despite its solitary and nocturnal habits, Brown Hyenas exhibit complex social behaviors, forming loose-knit family groups centered around communal den sites within their territories.

Figure 1. Brown Hyena. The image is available under the terms and conditions of CC-BY-SA license ( accessed on 8 February 2024).

This species' adaptability to harsh and unpredictable environments is reflected in its ability to thrive in a range of habitats, including deserts, scrublands, and coastal areas. Furthermore, its role as a scavenger contributes to ecosystem health by helping to recycle nutrients and maintain ecological balance.

However, the Brown Hyena faces numerous threats to its survival, including habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, and persecution due to misconceptions and superstitions. Conservation efforts aimed at protecting its habitat, mitigating conflicts with humans, and raising awareness about its ecological importance are crucial for ensuring the long-term viability of this iconic species and the preservation of the unique ecosystems it inhabits.

2. Morphology and Physical Characteristics

The Brown Hyena possesses distinctive morphology and physical characteristics that distinguish it within the hyena family. Typically, adults measure between 90 to 140 centimeters in length, with a shoulder height of around 70 centimeters. Its shaggy, tawny-brown fur provides insulation against the harsh desert and semi-arid climates of southern Africa, and its long, coarse mane along the back slopes downward from the neck to the rump, contributing to its unique appearance.

Notably, the Brown Hyena features powerful jaws and a robust skull, well-suited for scavenging and crushing bones to access marrow, a significant component of its diet. Its ears are rounded and tufted with long hair, enhancing its sense of hearing and aiding in communication within social groups. Additionally, the Brown Hyena's front legs are slightly longer than its hind legs, giving it a distinctive sloping posture when standing.

This species also exhibits sexual dimorphism, with males typically larger and heavier than females. Despite its common name, the Brown Hyena's fur can vary in coloration, ranging from pale yellow to dark brown, with individual variation influenced by factors such as age, diet, and environmental conditions.

Overall, the morphology and physical characteristics of the Brown Hyena reflect its adaptation to arid and semi-arid environments, where it plays a crucial role as a scavenger and predator, contributing to ecosystem dynamics and nutrient cycling in southern Africa's diverse landscapes

3. Behavior and Diet

The Brown Hyena exhibits unique behaviors and dietary preferences adapted to its arid and semi-arid habitat in southern Africa. As primarily nocturnal scavengers, Brown Hyenas rely heavily on carrion for sustenance, often scavenging from kills made by larger predators or feeding on carcasses of animals that have succumbed to natural causes or harsh environmental conditions.

In addition to scavenging, Brown Hyenas may supplement their diet with small prey such as rodents, birds, reptiles, and insects, as well as fruits, roots, and vegetation when available. Their opportunistic feeding habits enable them to exploit a wide range of food sources, enhancing their adaptability to unpredictable environments.

Brown Hyenas typically live in small family groups led by a dominant female, with offspring from multiple litters forming cohesive social units centered around communal den sites. These groups engage in cooperative behaviors such as hunting, den maintenance, and territorial defense, facilitating survival and reproductive success in challenging environments.

Despite their predominantly nocturnal habits, Brown Hyenas may also be active during the day, especially in cooler weather or when food resources are abundant. Their vocalizations, including whoops, growls, and cackles, serve as important forms of communication within family groups and may also be used to assert dominance or deter potential threats.

4. Reproductive Biology

The reproductive biology of the Brown Hyena is characterized by complex social dynamics and reproductive strategies adapted to its arid and semi-arid habitat in southern Africa. Breeding typically occurs year-round, with peaks in activity observed during cooler months or periods of increased food availability.

Female Brown Hyenas typically give birth to litters of 1 to 5 cubs, following a gestation period of around 90 to 110 days. Births often occur within communal dens, which may be shared by multiple females within a social group.

Parental care is primarily provided by the dominant female and other adult members of the social group, with cubs receiving nourishment through lactation and protection within the den. As the cubs grow, they gradually transition to solid food, initially through regurgitation by adults and later through scavenging and hunting alongside family members.

Young Brown Hyenas remain dependent on their mother and the social group for several months to years before reaching sexual maturity and potentially dispersing to establish their territories and breeding pairs. This prolonged period of parental care and social integration contributes to the cohesion and stability of Brown Hyena social groups, facilitating cooperative behaviors and ensuring the survival of offspring in harsh and unpredictable environments.

5. Ecological Role

The Brown Hyena plays a crucial ecological role in the arid and semi-arid ecosystems of southern Africa, contributing to ecosystem dynamics and functioning in several key ways. As scavengers, Brown Hyenas help maintain ecosystem health by consuming carrion and recycling nutrients, thereby reducing the risk of disease transmission and preventing the buildup of organic matter.

Furthermore, Brown Hyenas may act as keystone species, exerting top-down control on prey populations through predation and scavenging activities. By regulating herbivore populations, they indirectly influence vegetation dynamics and promote habitat heterogeneity, which in turn supports a diverse array of plant and animal species within their ecosystems.

Moreover, Brown Hyenas serve as indicators of ecosystem health, with their presence and population dynamics reflecting habitat quality and prey abundance. Monitoring Brown Hyena populations can provide valuable insights into broader ecological trends and inform conservation strategies aimed at preserving biodiversity and ecosystem integrity in southern Africa's unique landscapes.

Overall, the ecological role of the Brown Hyena extends beyond its individual behaviors and interactions, encompassing its contributions to nutrient cycling, trophic dynamics, and ecosystem stability in arid and semi-arid environments. Conservation efforts aimed at protecting Brown Hyena populations and their habitats are essential for maintaining the resilience and functioning of these ecosystems in the face of ongoing environmental challenges

6. Conservation Measures

Habitat Protection: Establishing and expanding protected areas, such as national parks, reserves, and wildlife corridors, to conserve critical Brown Hyena habitats and maintain connectivity between populations. This involves mitigating threats such as habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation due to human activities such as agriculture, urbanization, and infrastructure development.

Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation: Implementing strategies to reduce conflicts between Brown Hyenas and human communities, particularly livestock farmers. This may include the installation of predator-proof enclosures, the use of livestock guardian animals, and the development of community-based initiatives that promote coexistence and provide alternative livelihoods for local communities.

Anti-Poaching Efforts: Strengthening law enforcement measures to combat illegal hunting, poaching, and trade in Brown Hyenas and their body parts. This involves increasing patrols, implementing wildlife crime investigation units, and raising awareness about the legal protections afforded to Brown Hyenas under national and international legislation.

Research and Monitoring: Conducting scientific research and monitoring programs to assess Brown Hyena populations, distribution, and habitat use, as well as to identify threats and conservation priorities. This involves using techniques such as camera trapping, radio telemetry, and genetic analysis to gather data on Brown Hyena ecology, behavior, and population dynamics.

Public Education and Outreach: Raising awareness about the importance of Brown Hyena conservation among local communities, policymakers, and the general public through education and outreach programs. This includes disseminating information about the ecological role of Brown Hyenas, their conservation status, and the actions individuals can take to support their protection.

International Cooperation: Promoting collaboration and partnerships among governments, non-governmental organizations, research institutions, and local communities across national borders to address transboundary conservation challenges and ensure coordinated conservation efforts for Brown Hyena populations throughout their range.

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Update Date: 28 Feb 2024