Cheetah hindquarter … it's what's for dinner. For those not familiar with this strange and shaggy-looking member of the hyena family, you're looking at Hyaena brunnea – a.k.a the brown hyena. And on its menu here is a choice piece of cheetah carcass.

These elusive, nocturnal carnivores are the rarest members of the hyena family. They're also scavenging experts, covering large distances during solitary nightly excursions to sniff out carcasses using their exceptional sense of smell. 

This particular snack was probably obtained in just that way. "In all likelihood, the cheetah was killed by another large predator (a lion or leopard) and then eaten by this brown hyena," says Vincent van der Merwe, who is the cheetah metapopulation coordinator for the Carnivore Conservation Programme with South African environmental organisation Endangered Wildlife Trust. 

He explains that while lions and leopards often kill cheetahs because they see them as competition for prey, they don't feed on the carcasses afterwards – leaving the door open for opportunistic feeders like brown hyenas to snatch an easy meal. Brown hyenas are also known for being quite aggressive in their scavenging work, often challenging other carnivores and appropriating their loot.  

But van der Merwe rules out the possibility that the brown hyena could have attacked and killed the cheetah on its own. "Brown hyenas regularly chase cheetahs off their kills but I don’t know of a single incident where a brown hyena has actually killed an adult cheetah. However, it is well known that brown hyenas are responsible for a considerable proportion of cheetah cub mortalities," he adds.  

The larger spotted hyena, on the other hand, is quite capable of taking on an adult cheetah. "Spotted hyenas can actually kill and then also feed on the cheetahs afterwards," says van der Merwe.

Top header image: Bernard DUPONT, Flickr