Thursday, October 30, 2008

Be Prepared

Many of my readers may know that the Spotted (or Laughing) Hyenas’ (Crocuta crocuta) reputation for being scavengers is undeserved; they hunt at least as frequently as Lions. A smaller subset probably knows about the… um… interesting morphology found in female Spotted Hyenas. I hate to disappoint, but the Hyena I’m writing about today has neither of those characteristics. Meet the Brown Hyena (Hyaena brunnea).
Image from Lioncrusher's Domain
Image from Lioncrusher's Domain

It is much scragglier than its spotted relative, as well as being smaller. Their main food source is dead things, which they find using their acute sense of smell. While most of their diet is made up of carrion, this doesn’t mean they don’t hunt. Do you want to see a moderately ugly animal become instantly vilified? Watch this video of a Hyena on the coast hunting a baby Fur Seal. Of course, there’s no reason for the vilification—the Hyena’s gotta eat.

While they hunt and eat on their own, they come home to clans made of three to five other family members. Females will mate with unrelated nomadic males—just passing through—to prevent inbreeding. Cubs are raised by the whole family, and females will (begrudgingly) suckle others’ young. When the babies are on solids, the clan will bring back food for them.

They live in southern Africa, south of the Spotted Hyenas’ range. They prefer semi-arid environments, though some live on the Namibian Coast1. They can survive close to urban areas, which is what gets them in trouble. People will find them feeding on dead livestock, and assume the Hyena was the killer. ARKive states: "The brown hyena is a poor hunter, but will often make feeble, frequently unsuccessful, attempts to catch any small animal it encounters." Does that really sound like something that would take down a thousand-pound cow? This kind of persecution lead to the Brown Hyena being listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.

It's not listed as Vulnerable anymore. Education programs have lead to farmers reconsidering their views on Hyenas. That, coupled with the maintanance of large conservation areas have helped the Brown Hyena back from Vulnerable; it is now listed as Near Threatened. If this continues, it might end up as another "Conservation Success Story," like the Bald Eagle and Lake Sturgeon.

1One would assume that those are the ones catching the Fur Seals, unless the baby was really lost, and meandered 500 miles inland.