The nocturnal brown hyaena roams vast distances on its own each night, around 20 to 35 kilometres, searching for carrion on which to feed (2). With its exceptional sense of smell the brown hyaena can locate carcasses several kilometres away, and without the need to cooperate with any other hyaenas, it does not have to share its find unless it brings the food back to the den (6). Along the Namibian shore, beachcombing for dead fur seals, whales and ocean debris is common (2). The brown hyaena is a poor hunter, but will often make feeble, frequently unsuccessful, attempts to catch any small animal it encounters (3). It also feeds on invertebrates, eggs and fruit (2), and shrewdly stores any excess food for later use (3).
Despite being solitary when foraging, brown hyaenas usually live in extended family groups of four to six individuals, called clans. A clan defends a territory and all members assist in raising the cubs (3). Territories are marked by ‘pasting’ and defecating; behaviours which also form a clever communication system. Pasting is the act of the hyaena depositing secretions from its large anal gland onto grass stalks. The white blob and thin black smear of paste that is left behind contains information about the hyaena - its identity and the time since the hyaena passed by. This, along with frequently defecating in latrines, ensures that the hyaenas of an area have a good idea of what the other clan members are up to (6).
Males in a clan do not usually mate with the clan females, as most of them are related to the females and this would cause inbreeding. Instead, females usually mate with nomadic males that wander between territories visiting receptive females (3). The gestation period of the brown hyaena is three months, after which up to three blind and deaf young are born. For the first few months after birthing, the female and her young seclude themselves. After this period, they rejoin the clan where, in an example of their extraordinary social system, a lactating female may occasionally suckle other cubs than her own, but showing a clear preference toward her own cubs, and all members of the clan help feed the cubs by bringing food back to the den (2) (4) (6).