The brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea), also known as strandwolf, is an extant species of hyena found in Botswana, Namibia, southern and western Zimbabwe, South Africa, and southern Mozambique. It is the rarest species of hyena.
The largest remaining brown hyena population can be found in coastal areas in Southwest Africa and the southern Kalahari Desert.
The total population of brown hyena has been estimated by IUCN at a number between 4,000 – 10,000 and is listed as near threatened in the IUCN Red List.
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Distinct from other species of hyenas, the brown hyenas have pointed ears, long shaggy dark brown coat, and a short tail. The legs are striped white and brown, and adults have a distinct cream-coloured fur ruff around their necks.
Erectile hair 12.0 in (305 mm) in length covers the back, neck, and bristles during agonistic behavior. Body length is 57 in (144 cm) on average, with a range of 51 to 63 in (130 to 160 cm).
Shoulder height is 28 to 31 in (70 to 80 cm), and the tail is 9.8 to 13.8 in (25 to 35 cm) long. An average adult male weighs 89 to 96 lb (40.2 to 43.7 kg), while the average female weighs 83 to 89 lb (37.7 to 40.2 kg).
Brown hyenas are known to have powerful jaws. The skull of the northern striped hyena is smaller in size compared to that of the brown hyena.
Compared to the wolves, brown hyenas have a social hierarchy, with a mated pair and their offspring. They live in clans consisting of extended families of 4 – 6 individuals. All members work together to raise the cubs and also defend their territory.
They mark their territory by pasting, during which the brown hyena secrete a substance from its large anal gland, which is located below the tail. The secretion comes as a black and white paste, sprayed on boulder and vegetation.
Brown hyenas maintain a stable clan hierarchy through a mock fight and ritualized aggressive displays. To move up in rank, a brown hyena needs to kill another, while the alpha is usually the oldest female in the clan.
It is known that young males join other groups or clans, and this is called emigration.
There is no mating season for the brown hyena. Females typically produce their first litter at 2 years of age and are known to be polyestrous. Both sexes from the same clan usually do not mate with one another, rather, the female mate with nomadic males.
Males in the clan will assist the females in raising their cubs. The gestation period lasts 3 months, and mothers generally produce one litter per 20 months. Only the dominant females breed, but if two litters are born into the clan, mothers assist each other to raise the cubs, though they would favour theirs.
The number of cubs in a litter is 1 to 5, which weighs 2.2 lb (1 kg) at birth. Distinct from the spotted hyena, the brown cubs are born with their eyes closed, and it opens after 8 days.
Weaning occurs at 12 months, and they leave their dens at 18 months. Different from the spotted hyena, the cubs will be fed by all the adult members. Brown hyenas reach their full size at 30 months of age and have a lifespan of 12 – 15 years.
Brown hyenas are scavengers, whose diet consist of carcasses of other large predators, but also supplement it with insects, rodents, eggs, fungi (the desert truffle Kalaharituber pfeilii), and fruits. However, they are poor hunters, and live prey only occupies a small proportion of their diet.
In the southern Kalahari, species such as springbok lambs, springhare, korhaans, and bat-eared foxes only constitute only 4.2% of their overall diet, while on the Namib coast, cape fur seal pups constitute 2.9% of their food.
Brown hyenas are known to inhabit semi-desert, desert areas, and open woodland savannah.