Description and biology
The brown hyena, also known as the strand wolf, has a long, brown, shaggy coat with lighter underparts. Its face and legs are gray to black. An average brown hyena measures 43 to 53 inches (109 to 135 centimeters) long and stands 25 to 35 inches (64 to 89 centimeters) high at its shoulder. It weighs between 82 and 104 pounds (37 and 47 kilograms). Males are larger than females.
The brown hyena feeds primarily on the remains of prey killed by other predators. With its strong teeth and jaws, the animal can crush and eat bone. It also feeds on insects, eggs, fruits, and an occasional small animal or bird that it kills. Although it has acute vision and hearing, the brown hyena locates its prey by scent. Lions and spotted hyenas are the animal’s main predators.
Brown hyenas are often killed because of the false belief that they are a threat to livestock.
Brown hyenas sleep during the day and hunt at dusk or during the night. While on its nightly hunting expedition, a brown hyena will normally cover about 19 square miles (49 square kilometers). Some have been known to travel over 31 square miles (80 square kilometers).
Although often solitary in their habits, brown hyenas will form clans of up to 10 members. Male and female brown hyenas mate at any time during the year. After a gestation (pregnancy) period of 90 to 100 days, a female will give birth to 1 to 5 cubs. In a communal den (dwelling place shared by all members in a clan), cubs may suckle from females other than their mother. All members of the clan help to feed the cubs by carrying food to the den.
Habitat and current distribution
In southern Africa, brown hyenas inhabit arid (dry) areas such as rocky deserts with thick brush, open grassland and scrub (land covered with stunted trees and shrubs), and semi-deserts. They sleep in dense vegetation, under sheltering rocks, or in burrows dug by other animals.
History and conservation measures
Scientists do not know the exact number of existing brown hyenas, but they believe the animals’ range and population has been greatly reduced. Of the six African countries where brown hyenas can be found, only Botswana and Zimbabwe host sizable populations.
Many humans dislike brown hyenas because of their foul stench and their cry (which sounds like maniacal laughter). Brown hyenas are often killed by humans for these reasons and because the animals are seen as a threat to livestock. Since brown hyenas feed on carrion (decaying flesh of dead animals), this last view is utterly false.
Brown hyenas are given protection in several conservation areas in the Kalahari, an arid plateau region stretching about 100,000 square miles (259,000 square kilometers) in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. The animals are also protected along the coastal regions of the southern Namib Desert in western Namibia.