Tag Archives: Brown Hyena

Brown Hyena

Parahyaena brunnea

Brown Hyenas are found in a wide selection of habitats, occurring from moist mountain grasslands to desert coastlines (earning them their old Afrikaans name “Strandwolf”, translating as “Beach Wolf”). They’re often found near rocky hills, these providing shelter in the form of dense vegetation and caves, but where this isn’t available they will use burrows dug by themselves or other animals as dens. Brown Hyenas feed mainly on carrion, ostrich eggs and wild fruits, with prey they catch themselves making up only a very small percentage of their total dietary intake. They are not dependent on surface water but will drink where and when it is available.

Territorial family groups, known as clans, are the principal social grouping in Brown Hyena society. These number up to 18 individuals, though around 7 is more usual. Adult males are nomadic and move from one clan to the next, mating with receptive females. Territories are marked with dung and scent glands and neighbouring clans will get involved in serious fights over territory. Brown Hyenas are mostly nocturnal and most active just after sunset and just before sunrise. They may cover enormous distances on their nightly excursions in search of food.

Female Brown Hyenas give birth to 1-5 tiny cubs at any time, approximately 3 months after mating. Females look after the cubs by themselves for the first 2 to 3 months after birth, before introducing them to the rest of the clan. While they start eating solid food from 3 months old, the cubs are only weaned at about a year of age. At about 15 months old the cubs are big enough to fend for themselves. Fully grown Brown Hyenas weigh around 45kg and stand about 80cm high at the shoulder, males being only slightly larger than females. Brown Hyenas have a life expectancy of up to 25 years in the wild, though larger predators are a considerable threat.

Much rarer and less well known than the larger Spotted Hyena, the Brown Hyena is also the hyena species with the most limited distribution. The IUCN estimates that there’s a total of between 4,300 and 10,100 adult Brown Hyenas left in the wild (half of which in Botswana), and evaluates its conservation status as being near threatened. The biggest threats to their continued survival is persecution by livestock farmers and habitat loss. While they occur at low densities almost all over South Africa, with a population estimated at probably no higher than 2,200 within our borders, the best places to go looking for Brown Hyenas in South Africa in our experience is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Pilanesberg National Park. Apart from South Africa and Botswana, Brown Hyenas are also found in Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, while it is doubtful any remain in Lesotho, eSwatini (Swaziland) and Mozambique.

A day in Pilanesberg: Hour 4

Mankwe Dam, a large man-made impoundment that holds water throughout the year and that’s a veritable magnet for wildlife, is located in the heart of the Pilanesberg National Park. On its banks you’ll find the Mankwe Hide, very popular with photographers and recently rebuilt after being destroyed in a veld fire. That is where we are headed next.

Back in the hide’s parking area this southern masked weaver is enjoying a bath in a small puddle- as if he is too scared to go swimming in the big pool on the other side!

Almost immediately after driving out of the parking area at the hide, we come across a pair of lions – our second lion sighting of the day and less than 200 steps from where we were standing outside our vehicle just a few seconds ago! Luckily, being a mating pair, their attentions are focused on satisfying other base instincts than finding food. Our day just keeps getting better!

Leaving the lions to their honeymoon, we head north along Kgabo Drive and take a left into Tlou. Along the way we add further to our list of birds seen, including this rufous-naped lark singing its lungs out from a prominent perch.

Rufous-naped Lark

Just as we get to the junction of Tlou and Thuthlwa drives we find another brown hyena, walking quite purposefully away from an old elephant carcass with a large chunk of bone in its jaws. We follow alongside until it disappears into a thicket, its destination remaining a mystery to us but we like to think that it is headed to a den with hungry youngsters waiting.

If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)

Mankwe Hide to Tlou Drive

If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.

To be continued tomorrow.

A day in Pilanesberg: Hour 2

We pick up our recollections of our day trip through Pilanesberg National Park at the the junction of Kwalata Road and Mankwe Way which was, on the 28th of August 2020, the scene of a deadly battle between two elephant bulls. Sadly Mavuso – a dominant bull that was brought to Pilanesberg National Park from the Kruger National Park back in 1999 and estimated to be around the mid-50’s in age – was killed in the fight. We were fortunate to have seen the gentle giant during a previous visit in November 2018.

Pilanesberg’s late tusker Mavuso, seen in November 2018

Mavuso’s massive carcass has been a magnet for scavengers since the unfortunate end to the fight, and it is amazing to think that even now six weeks later there’s still ample carrion available to attract the attention of black-backed jackals and brown hyenas. Apart from quickly popping in at the Fish Eagle Picnic Site for a body-break and a freshly made mug of coffee we spend almost an hour at the carcass watching the fascinating interaction between the scavengers. The pictures are gory, but trust me when I say that the smell is even more so!

If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)

Kwalata to Fish Eagle and back

If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read yesterday’s post covering the stretch from Kwa Maritane Gate to Kwalata Road here.

To be continued tomorrow.