Brown hyenas are found predominately through the Southern Kalahari of Africa along the coast, in dunes and scrub.
Brown hyenas are smaller than the spotted hyenas. Unlike their larger relative, brown hyenas have pointed ears (rather than rounded). Males are not larger than the females in height, but are longer in body length.
Brown hyenas sport large skulls and necks (to support the skeletal and muscle structure of the head). Like spotted hyenas, brown hyenas also have very large carnassial molars.
The front feet of brown hyenas are a different size compared to the rear. Brown hyenas have longer fore limbs and shorter back limbs. Like the spotted hyena, this gives them a stamina advantage when tracking prey.
More opportunistic than the spotted hyenas, brown hyenas eat insects, birds, reptiles, antelope and small mammals. They will also eat melons and Gemsbok cucumber fruit. Neither fruit is high in caloric value, but they do provide the hyena with a water source, trace minerals and vitamin C.
Do they hunt?
Yes. Brown Hyenas have a different feeding strategy than the spotted. Brown hyenas are more active in a 24-hour period, moving from one meal to the next. This is in contrast to the spotted hyena which takes more of a hunt-gorge-rest-fast approach and will hunt every two days. Brown hyenas are not social hunters though, and as a result, must be more opportunistic with their diet.
Like the spotted, brown hyenas live in matriarchal lead clans. The family clans of brown hyenas range from a single female and her cubs to groups of 10-12 members. Young, non-breeding males leave the clans anywhere from 20-78 months to become nomadic. They will either seek our other clans (taking the space of deceased males) or start their own.
Females will also sometimes leave a clan at this age to become nomadic if she is deemed as a breeding or dominant threat to the higher ranking females. Nomadic females can’t breed as by the time a male is able to track them, their estrus cycle is over. Most females though, stick to their maternal clans.
All females partake in raising the cubs together as a group, either sharing a den as a wet nurse, or bringing in a leg of an antelope for the cubs to eat.
In comparison to their larger relative, the spotted hyena, brown hyenas are social animals in regards to raising cubs (females only) and defending territory. However they are lone foragers for food and do not actively hunt in groups.
Brown hyenas also have no long distance call like the spotted hyena.
Gestation is ~97 days. Females have a litter of cubs every 20-46 months which breeding independent of any seasonal change. Females give birth to 1-5 cubs. Weaning age for the cubs is 12-14 months. Cubs will start to forage for carrion, eggs and insects starting at 10 months of age.
Estrus can last for several days in the wild, and up to 2 weeks in captivity. This is much longer compared to the spotted hyena, who is only in estrus for a day or two. To examine why there is a prolonged estrus, we need to examine the social structure of the brown hyena clan. Brown hyenas don’t spend as much of their time being in their social clan as the spotted hyenas. Foraging is a solitary activity. Young males linger around to defend the territory. A dominant breeding male can be several miles away while the female is in estrus, it could take some time to track her down. Contrasted against the spotted hyenas, where many males are always nearby and a female can choose a social, readily available suitor. The prolonged estrus cycle of the brown hyena gives the male ample time to get to the female.
Courting in the brown hyena is also different than the spotted.
Copulation only lasts for a couple of minutes. The male and female don’t make direct eye contact with one another. After copulation, the female goes off to rest. The male follows her. Lather, rinse repeat, this goes on for a few hours.
Cub mortality in itself is very low, since all females partake in raising the cubs as a group. Only 11% of cubs die before adolescence. Young brown hyenas are more likely to die from a vicious attack from another predator, or by man. Older hyenas die from natural causes, or vicious attacks from another predator.
Brown hyenas of the eastern Kalahari have a rather unique relationship with the cheetah. While feeding, cheetahs will gorge themselves, but cannot eat an entire antelope in one sitting. Many hyenas will follow a cheetah, and scavenge the leftovers from its hunt. The brown hyenas serve as an early warning system for other predators, spotted hyenas, lions, etc. The exhausted cheetah gets an early warning on when to leave the kill to avoid injury. In return the brown hyena gets an easy meal.