Brown hyaenas live in small social groups, called ‘clans.’ Clans range in size from a solitary female and her cubs to groups containing several females and their offspring of different ages. Some of the largest clans of brown hyaenas reported to date occur along the Namibian coast, where clans of 12-13 individuals are supported seasonally by carrion from huge numbers of seal pups dying as a result of heat stress or starvation (Wiesel 2006). Adult males either remain with their natal clan, become nomadic, or immigrate into a new clan. The clan cooperatively defends a territory, but its members do not forage together.

Although members of a clan forage on their own, several may come together at a large food source. Clan members also join together to defend a common territory. In the Kalahari, clan territories varied in size from 170 to 480 km^2 (Mills 1990; Owens and Owens 1996), and along the Namib Desert coast, where clans contain 12 or 13 individuals, group territories may cover 220 – 980 km^2 (Goss 1986; Wiesel 2006). In the Transvaal agricultural area, the range of a translocated adult male was only 49 km^2, suggesting that agricultural development may in some instances be advantageous to the brown hyaena (Skinner and van Aarde 1987). Clan size is determined by the type of food in the territory and territory size by the manner in which the food resources are distributed.

Above: brown hyaenas feed on a gensbok carcass. Below: A brown hyaena pastes. Photos by Gus Mills

Much of the communication among brown hyaenas involves use of chemical signals. A greeting between two brown hyenas entails mutual sniffing of the mouth, neck, back and anus. Territorial ownership, and also probably information between group members, is communicated by defecating at latrines and particularly by depositing anal gland secretions onto grass stalks in a scent marking behaviour called ‘pasting’. Each time a brown hyaena pastes, two distinct substances are secreted: a thin, black smear consisting mainly of lipo-fuschin from apocrine tissue and, below it, a thick, white blob, rich in lipid, the smell of which lasts for over 30 days. Brown hyaenas distribute pastings throughout the territory, on average 2.6 times per kilometre travelled, although they paste with a higher frequency near territory boundaries than in the hinterland of the territory. Pastings are so well distributed over a brown hyaena territory that an individual is hardly ever more than 500 m from an active pasting site (German and Mills 1984).

Brown hyaenas are generally fairly quiet except during conflict (Mills 1982; Owens and Owens 1996). Territorial fights usually involve ritualized neck-biting bouts between two animals of the same sex, accompanied by loud yelling and growling by the submissive animal. The brown hyaena has no long distance calls.

Leave a Comment