Because it is often overlooked, numbers and distribution records may in fact underestimate its distribution and population size. Given this proviso, the results of the questionnaire survey administered by the Specialist Group, and an evaluation of published information and different surveys, suggest that a tentative estimate of the total worldwide population size is at a minimum of 5,000 to 8,000 individuals.
In the South African Red Data Book, the status of the brown hyaena is given as rare (Smithers 1986). The global population size is estimated to be below 10,000 individuals, and because of this small size and deliberate and incidental persecution the status of the brown hyaena is now Lower Risk: near threatened (IUCN 2000).
One of the major threats to the persistence of brown hyaenas is the false belief that they threaten domestic livestock. In fact, the impact of the brown hyaena on domestic animals is usually small. However, when specifically asked about this impact, nearly all respondents from local populations mentioned that in particular sheep and goats were sometimes killed by the brown hyaena, as well as calves of cattle, poultry, and domestic dogs and cats. Stock killing is often carried out by a particular individual. Removal of this individual solves the problem, according to Skinner (1976), who reported two cases of stock killing over several months, which ceased once the culprit was removed, even though there were other brown hyaenas in the area. Finding a brown hyaena on a carcass is not evidence that this individual was the killer, as brown hyaenas are habitual scavengers.
Because of its secretive nature and nocturnal habits the brown hyaena, like the striped hyaena, is not easy to encounter and is often overlooked, even in stock farming areas. However, poisoning, trapping and hunting have had a detrimental effect on populations and are a threat to the species in some areas. Intolerance and ignorance by commercial stock farmers in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have led to the killing of many non-harmful individuals. Although used in traditional medicine and rituals, it is not nearly as sought after in this regard as the spotted hyaena. It also has very little demand as a trophy.
There are several large conservation areas within the brown hyaena’s distribution range with viable populations: the Namib-Naukluft, Skeleton Coast and Etosha National Parks in Namibia, the Kalahari Gemsbok and Gemsbok National Parks in South Africa and Botswana, and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana. Furthermore, the species adapts easily to many human activities. As long as these large conservation areas are maintained and a rational approach to the management of brown hyaenas in other areas can be maintained and developed, the future survival of the species can be viewed with optimism. Outside conservation areas good habitat for brown hyaenas exists on agricultural land, particularly in areas unsuitable for small stock production. In these areas brown hyaena conservation should be promoted through education campaigns on brown hyaena ecology and through supportive management by conservation authorities, such as by helping to remove problem individuals.