Shoulder height 75–85cm. Weight 40–47kg.
This secretive, apparently solitary hyena occurs in the most arid parts of Namibia, and throughout Botswana; it is absent only from the far north. It is unmistakable with a shaggy, dark brown coat – not unlike a large, long-haired German shepherd dog – with faint black stripes and sloping back. In contrast to the spotted hyena, brown hyenas do tend to scavenge rather than hunt, and are generally solitary whilst doing so.
They are the dominant carnivore in the drier areas of the Namib and Kalahari, where clans (typically containing 2–10 animals) will defend enormous territories against neighbouring clans. Individuals normally forage on their own and will eat whatever they can, from small birds and mammals to the remains of kill, as well as fruit and vegetables. They can go without water for long periods in the Kalahari, gaining moisture from tsama melons as well as their other food.
Brown hyena are very rarely seen on game drives, although in the last few years researchers based at Jack's Camp have habituated a small clan of hyena to their presence – making this probably the best place in Africa to see them. See The Clans of Makgadikgadi on page 418 for more information on brown hyena.