Brown & Spotted Hyaena

Brown Hyaena - Description:

There are no significant differences between the sexes in the brown hyaena. They have a short, broad muzzle with strong teeth adapted for crushing bone and long, pointed ears. Their dark brown coat is shaggy, with a light straw-coloured mantle and a tail of much longer hair; legs are a dark yellow-brown, with black stripes. Cubs are grey, with no mane and more stripes on the legs. The forequarters and longer front legs give the brown hyaena a sloping outline. Height at the shoulder 70-86 cm. Weight is 35-50kg. 



Brown Hyaena – Habits, Behaviour and Social Organisation:

The brown hyaena is predominantly nocturnal but is also active during the late afternoon and early morning. Clans consist of up to 14 related adults, sons and daughters, with communal suckling and provisioning at the den. Clan members mark and defend territory against same-sex neighbours. Brown hyaenas forage alone, during which time they scent-mark up to 2-3 times per kilometre, depositing two different anal-sac secretions, a long-lasting (up to 30 days) white pomade and a black watery secretion that fades quickly. The white pomade establishes territories and the shorter-lasting dark secretion leaves a chemical message that lets other hyaenas know who has passed through the area - and thus helps them concentrate their energies in areas where no foraging has taken place recently. Hyaenas can cover up to 30 km per night. Home ranges are dependant on prey availability but on average are 235-480 km².


Brown Hyaena – Food and Hunting:

Brown hyaenas are opportunistic foragers and can survive in places where food and water are scarce. They eat almost everything with any food value. They scavenge large mammals, fruit, insects, eggs and vegetables, relying on sense of smell and stopping regularly to test the wind. When the brown hyaena finds a surplus of food it will cache it and return to eat night after night until it is finished. They hunt and kill only 6% of their food, mainly small mammals and birds. Melons provide most of their water during the dry season.


Brown Hyaena – Reproduction and Offspring:


Brown hyaenas are non-seasonal breeders. The gestation period is 90 days and the average litter size is 3 cubs. Cubs are born in a separate den and the mothers move them to a communal den when they are 3 months old. They are born blind; their eyes start to open at 8 days and are fully open by 14 days. Ears become erect at 28 days. Cubs begin to eat meat at 3 months but continue to nurse until 10 months old and are fully weaned at 15 months. Young start to forage on their own at the age of 14 months and are mature at 2½ years. Females mate with nomadic males; resident males show no sexual interest in the resident females.


Brown Hyaena - Adaptations:

Their teeth are adapted for crushing bone and they can digest bone and hide and survive on long-dead carcasses.


Brown Hyaena – Population and Distribution Worldwide:

The brown hyaena is found in the south-west arid zone and dry savannah south of the Zambezi River. It has been exterminated in South Africa, except for northern districts of the former Transvaal and the Cape Province. Estimated population: 5070-8020


Brown Hyaena Population in Namibia:

The latest estimate in Namibia was 522-1187. (Namibia Large Carnivore Atlas – July 2004).

Brown Hyaena – Conservation Status:

IUCN Red list: Near threatened. Population



Spotted Hyaena - Description:

The spotted hyaena is the most common and largest of the hyaena species. They are powerfully built with sloping back, long muscular legs, a short and bushy tail and a huge head, topped with broad round ears. The jaws are set with robust teeth and powered by enormous muscles which allow the hyaena to crush and eat large bones. Young hyaenas are a seal-grey colour until they are 1½-2 months old; the head lightens first and by the age of 12 months they have a greyish ground colour and are heavily spotted everywhere except on their legs. They have a crest of erect hair from the nape of the neck to just behind the shoulders. The colour of their short and woolly coat lightens and the spots fade with age from a reddish brown to light brown; the tip of the tail and the muzzle remain dark. Hyaenas see as well as man during the day but come into their own at night when their eyesight improves immensely. Adults measure 70-91 cm at the shoulder and weigh 50-86 kg


Spotted Hyaena – Habits, Behaviour and Social Organisation:


Spotted Hyaenas are predominately nocturnal but are also active during the day. They have territorial clans with a matriarchal society. Clan sizes can differ from less than 5 in the desert and semi-desert of Southern Africa to over 50 in the savannahs of East Africa. They inhabit a communal den which can be used by up to 10 females, each with 2 to 3 cubs of differing ages. Hunting ranges are dependent on prey density; in an area with low density they can be 500-2000 km². Although both sexes scent-mark, this is predominantly done by the males. They leave a strong smelly paste on tall grass stems with their anal glands. They also use communal latrines where they defecate. Spotted hyaenas are active just before sunset until just before sunrise. With the female having external pseudo-male genitalia, meeting other members of the clan involves mutual sniffing of the erect phallus as a greeting. The virilisation of the female genitals is due to a high testosterone level during the foetal phase. The alterations to the female’s genitals occur in the last trimester of gestation. High-ranking females have priority over resting sites at the den, and food, and rear more young than lower-ranking females. A daughter will inherit her mother’s rank and the highest-ranking male is dominated by the lowest-ranking female. Females remain in the natal clans, while males leave at 2 to 3 years to try and join another clan.


Spotted Hyaena – Food and Hunting:


Spotted hyaenas are cooperative hunters, using their keen eyesight and sense of smell. As well as antelope up to the size of an adult wildebeest, a hyaena will eat mice, reptiles, birds, eggs, fruit and insects. They are excellent scavengers and can detect a carcass as far away as 4 km using their noses and can survive on desiccated carcasses in times of famine. The cooperative hunting normally comes about spontaneously with other clan members joining in a chase by one of the group; the prey is normally run to exhaustion. Spotted hyaenas can gallop at 60 kph at top speed, maintain 40-50 kph for several kilometres and lope effortlessly at 10 kph over a long distance. Once caught, the prey is grabbed by the legs, belly or tail and quickly disembowelled. Kills become competitions and the quickest and strongest hyaena gets the most, with all the others taking what they can.


Spotted Hyaena – Reproduction and Offspring:

Hyaenas are non-seasonal breeders; the gestation period is 98 to 132 days. Due to the genital peculiarities, the females have complete control over copulation and there are no forced copulations by males. This is the only animal mammal species in which no forced copulations occur because a male needs the full cooperation from a female to penetrate with his penis into her pseudo-penis. Females generally mate with immigrant males and not males born in the clan. However, paternity analyses done in Tanzania have revealed that there have been a few cases where a natal male was chosen by the female to sire cubs but this was always with non-related males, i.e. males from a different matriline. Since female spotted hyaenas only have 2 teats, the litter size is 1 or 2 cubs. In the rare cases when a female gives birth to 3 cubs, one usually dies of starvation. Cubs are born in a separate burrow and after 10 days the mother moves them to the communal den. They weigh about 1½ kg and are born blind but with their eyes open. Their canines and incisors have already erupted and they are able to crawl on their forelegs. Although it is possible for them to eat meat at 2½ months, they seldom get the chance until they are 7 or 8 months old, as mothers rarely bring meat back to the den and leave the cubs unattended for long periods of time. Although all cubs are in a communal den, each female provides for her own cubs only and may suckle them for as long as 1½ years. Yearlings refused milk regularly throw tantrums in protest. Cubs accompany adults on hunts at one year but are not efficient hunters until they are 18 months old. Female offspring stay in the natal clan but males emigrate at adolescence (around 2 years). They are sexually mature at around 2½ years (male) and 3 years (female).


Spotted Hyaenas - Adaptations:

They have the endurance to run down prey. Hunting cooperatively increases their chance of success. Their massive teeth enable them to chew through bone and the skin of an elephant or rhino. Long thick neck muscles and powerful jaws complement cutting and ripping movements.


Spotted Hyaenas – Population and Distribution:


Africa, south of the Sahara, except rain forest. Exterminated in most of South Africa. Estimated population: 27 000-47 000


Spotted Hyaena Population in Namibia:

The latest estimate in Namibia was 5075-8791. (Namibia Large Carnivore Atlas – July 2004).


Spotted Hyaena – Conservation Status:

IUCN Red List: Least concern. Population trend: decreasing. CITES: Not listed.

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