With no visitors at Okonjima due to the Worldwide pandemic the Research Team need our help.

The Brown Hyena Research Project at the AfriCat Foundation in Namibia.

There are four members of the Hyena or Hyaena family; the spotted hyena which are most familiar to visitors to Africa, frequently seen trying to scavenge around kills; the brown hyena which tends to be more active at night or at twilight who are more the secretly social scavenger; striped hyena which is not found in Namibia but in East Africa and the aardwolf, which looks like a shaggy dog. Okonjima has all three types of hyena found in Namibia. Some of you may recall being able to track the spotted hyena’s at Okonjima called Pooh, Paddington and Rupert so named as cubs as they resembled bears!

 A collared hyena in the okonjima Nature Reserve

The Brown Hyena Research project being undertaken on the Okonjima Nature Reserve, the home of the AfriCat Foundation is led by Dr Sarah Edwards. The study has found that Okonjima is home to the highest density population of brown hyena recorded across their range, at 24 brown hyena/100km2. It is thought that the freedom from human persecution; the fenced nature of the reserve and high food resource abundance all contributes to this. The large number of leopards in the Okonjima Nature Reserve may too benefit the brown hyenas by providing extra scavenging opportunities from leopard kills.

The project has discovered new information about these animals which are now often seen by guests at Okonjima. Brown hyenas, although usually alone whilst foraging, are a highly social species, forming groups called clans. A clan is made up of related females, their offspring adult natal males and immigrant males. All members of a clan help in raising the cubs. Adults of both sexes will bring food back to the den for the cubs and when two females have young at the same time, they will nurse each other’s offspring. When the team put a collar on a hyena it is not unusual to have a few members of the clan ‘keeping an eye’ on proceedings. Then there is a big reunion when the procedure is over, and the hyena has recovered from the anesthetic. However not all of Okonjima’s brown hyenas live in clans. There are ‘nomadic’ individuals which roam across the entire park and often end up in fights whilst in the territory of clan hyenas. The collared male ‘Einstein’ aka Johnny Walker, due to his extensive movement patterns, is a nomadic male and was the first recorded nomad for an enclosed area.

 baby hyena being watched by an adult

Many people have heard the call of the spotted hyena and that can raise the hackles on your neck, but interestingly brown hyena does not use vocal communication. Instead they rely mainly on olfactory/scent communication in the form of anal gland secretions, which they deposit on grass stalks across their home range. Brown hyenas are the only member of the hyena family to produce two distinct types of anal gland secretion: a black and a white paste.

Brown hyenas are primarily scavengers and play an important role within the ecosystem by providing a ‘cleaning services’ which help stop the spread of disease. Sadly, they are ruthlessly persecuted across their range by farmers and are currently the rarest member of the hyena family. So, reducing persecution is important. Another curious fact is that Brown hyaenas have a very low genetic diversity, lower even than the cheetah; meaning the current populations all come from a few individuals.

In 2020 the AfriCat research team will be focusing on collaring breeding females with GPS collars which allow us to quickly find natal and communal den sites, at which we then set up permanent camera trap monitoring stations. Monitoring breeding females and den sites allows the team to look at inter-birth intervals, litter sizes and cub survival rates – all factors which need to be considered for managing enclosed populations.

 collaring a hyena in the Okonjima Nature Reserve

In addition to breeding females, sub-adult brown hyaenas are to be targeted for GPS collaring, which gives the scope to examine dispersal behaviour – which will be the first time this has been done for brown hyaenas and will help with conservation efforts.

The study uses technology to good effect; however, hyena teeth are strong and things get damaged so additional camera traps and collars are needed to be replaced as well as for collaring new animals.

 hyena trap for brown hyena research in Namibia
Dr. Sarah Edwardsexplaining how the new trap for the hyena works with modern technology.

This link with take you to more details of the research which can be found at

Message from Dr. Sarah Edwards on #GivingTuesday

Long-term research data is needed to make informed conservation management decisions, and part of this is replacing the GPS collars of study animals to ensure uninterrupted periods of spatial data are collected.  For our study hyaena ‘OHB01’ aka Newton, a collar replacement meant a free-darting attempt by our resident veterinarian Dr Diethardt Rodenwoldt.  Our target hyena, along with several black-backed jackals quickly showed up at the bait site, and a successful darting followed.  The research team were able to replace the collar, take the all important biological samples and release the hyena back into his environment in under an hour.  Our long-term hyena research project is shedding light on the altered ecology of this shy and elusive species within an enclosed reserve.  Read more about our hyena research on the AfriCat Foundation website:

On National Hyena Day can we support the research team with funds for equipment like camera, collars, drugs for darting and the technology that helps to trap and track them. To donate click here.