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Predator Watch – Brown Hyena

Trip Information

Just back from an amazing trip to the malaria free Pilanesberg National Park in North West Province of South Africa. As usual, the main subject was Leopard but boy were we treated to some other amazing sightings!  Stay tuned for other posts from this trip.

Game Drives

A main attraction for me is the ability to self-drive, this allows one freedom to choose how much time you want to spend at a particular sighting. The only “downside” is that you don’t have the luxury of radio communication (unlike game vehicles) which means you need to find the sightings for yourself.

The roads are mainly gravel but you can navigate them in a normal sedan vehicle, however would recommend a SUV from a height clearance perspective.

We did 2 drives each day (6-10am and 3-6pm) which worked out to be approximately 7 hours bouncing around in a car – absolute bliss!

The cooler morning drives produced most of our sightings, the higher temperature later causes the animals to seek shade under the trees.


As usual, we headed out to our favourite loop (road) one afternoon hoping to spot leopards or lions – the golden light was magical. After photographing a Kori Bustard (bird) a flash of movement caught my eye down by the river that runs parallel to the road. What was that? There was nothing, maybe the dust and heat was getting the best of me. Then all of a sudden a head popped up, I whispered Brown Hyena to my wife who was already desperately trying to unclip her seatbelt to get a glimpse.

The line of sight was obscured by long grass but I took a “record” shot just in case it decided to head off in the other direction. I carefully repositioned the vehicle to a more open area hoping the hyena would exit the river and walk in our direction.

For what seemed like ages we played a game of cat and mouse, but VERY thankful that I managed to get a decent photo! This afterall is the rarest species of hyena and seldom seen in nature, let alone close to vehicles.

As you can see , they differ to the Spotted Hyena, below photo was taken in Addo Elephant National Park.

Interesting Hyena Facts

  • Brown Hyena weighs +- 41kg with body length of 144cm
  • Spotted Hyena weighs +- 63kg with body length of 165cm
  • Brown Hyena are scavengers (unlike Spotted Hyena that are classed as predators) that can smell a carcass from kilometers away – they usually appropriate kills from Black-backed Jackals, Cheetahs and Leopards.
  • A Hyena cub can crack the leg bones of springboks within 5 minutes of birth – hard to believe as they look so fluffy and harmless.

Photography Tips

  • A zoom lens is preferred as it allows different focal lengths which assists in composing for moving animals. 
  • Shoot in Aperture Priority (AV) mode as you want to get an f stop large enough for Depth of Field – this allows you to get the entire animal in focus from head to toe.
  • Golden light at sunrise and sunset is ideal.
  • Always approach animals with respect and do not interfere with their natural habitat.
  • Keep noise levels and movement to a limit – wait for the animal to relax and accept you before grabbing your camera.

Golden Rule

Always appreciate the small creatures, if you just chase the Big Cats you might end up not enjoying your safari if they are not spotted!

Till next time…


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