A tough customer

This post is part of  Kalahari  Series II – 2011. The previous post in the series is Hey Mom . . . wait for me!. Also see Kalahari Series I – 2009.

Honey Badgers (Mellivora capensis) are stocky animals with short bow-legs, and strong claws used for digging out their food – mainly spiders, scorpions, reptiles and bees. Their very thick, loose skin and thick fur, protects them from attacks by predators. They have got a reputation for being courageous and can be fairly aggressive. “Ferocious” is a word often used in connection with the honey badger! In Afrikaans the honey badger is called a “Ratel” and there is an Afrikaans saying “So taai soos ‘n Ratel” – “As tough as a honey badger”. It has even got a military armoured personnel carrier named after it – the Ratel IFV.

According to Wikipedia . . .

The honey badger (Mellivora capensis), also known as the ratel, is a species of mustelid native to Africa, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. Despite its name, the honey badger does not closely resemble other badger species, instead bearing more anatomical similarities to weasels. It is classed as Least Concern by the IUCN due to its extensive range and general environmental adaptations . . .

. . .  Honey badgers have the least specialised diet among mustelids. In undeveloped areas, honey badgers may hunt at any time of the day, though they become nocturnal in places with high human populations. When hunting, honey badgers trot with their fore-toes turned in, moving at the same speed as a young man. Despite their name, honey badgers are primarily carnivorous animals, and will take any sort of animal food at hand, including carrion, small rodents, scorpions, birds, eggs, insects, lizards, snakes, tortoises and frogs. They will eat fruit and vegetables such as berries, roots and bulbs.

They may hunt frogs and rodents such as gerbils and ground squirrels by digging them out of their burrows. Honey badgers are able to feed on tortoises without difficulty, due to their powerful jaws. They kill and eat snakes, even highly venomous or large ones such as cobras. They have been known to dig up human corpses in India. They devour all parts of their prey, including skin, hair, feathers, flesh and bones, holding their food down with their forepaws. When seeking vegetable food, they lift stones or tear bark from trees.

Read more . . .

First sighting

Date: 19 August 2011 at approximately 13:00.

Place: Grootkolk Wilderness Camp, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Never having seeing a honey badger in the Kgalagadi before, we were quite surprised when we suddenly saw one running away from the waterhole at the Grootkolk wilderness camp. In the middle of the day. It seemed very unconcerned about our presence, just going about its business. With a honey badger “in residence” it was no wonder that we did not see any snakes around the camp. Every time we have visited Grootkolk in the past, there has been a resident snake – either a puff-adder or a cobra.


Willie followed its progress to its burrow, which was very near the cabin we were staying in.

Honey Badger at Grootkolk in front of its burrow ©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

Second sighting

Date: 20 August 2011 at approximately 09:30.

Place: South of the Grootkolk Wilderness Camp, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

The next morning, we had just left Grootkolk to travel south back to Nossob, when we suddenly came across three honey badgers running around in the road. We stopped to take photographs, and two of the honey badgers came running towards the vehicle.


One of them was particularly brave and challenged us, showing us his teeth. Quite an amazing sight considering the size difference. An approximately15 kilogram animal versus a 3.5 ton vehicle.

Honey Badger takes on a 3.5 ton Land Cruiser! Click on the photo to enlarge it and take a look at those feet! ©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

Of course, once he realized that his mates had left, he also beat a hasty retreat. I managed to capture this in a little video. Although the camerawork is not great, it will give you a good idea of what we saw, and how the honey badger moves. Watch him look back, see that he hasn’t got any backup, and then decide to retreat. You can almost see him realizing that he has taken on more than he can cope with.

Conflict with humans

Where honey badgers occur in farming areas, problems have arisen when the honey badgers start becoming poultry and small livestock predators. And even though bees and honey are not their only food source, they do destroy beehives when they come across them. This became a serious issue for commercial beekeepers, who initially dealt with the problem by catching the honey badgers in steel jawed leg hold traps, and in same cases poisoning them. This meant trouble in the conservation of these amazing animals.

With so little known about the honey badgers at the time, a four-year study of honey badgers was conducted in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (South Africa) between 1996 to 1999. This study was supported by the Carnivore Conservation Group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. Once more was known about the habits of the honey badger, the attention of the researchers was turned to the conflict between commercial beekeepers and honey badgers, outside of protected areas. This eventually resulted in the “badger friendly” initiative where “a nationally recognized sticker and accreditation system was developed in cooperation with the bee industry. Beekeepers that sign a public declaration declaring their subscription to environmentally friendly and law-abiding beekeeping (including hive protection in risk areas) are allowed to display the “badger-friendly” logo on their products. A designated extension officer audits these beekeepers to ensure compliance with badger-friendly practices.“#1

We buy “badger friendly” honey – do you?

To read more about the Honey Badger research project, as well as the “badger friendly” initiative click on the link below.


#1: The Honey badger: Conserving “the most fearless animal in the world” by Colleen and Keith Begg.

The Kalahari 2011 Series:

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Nature/Environment


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)


Subscribe to the Notes from Africa RSS and Twitter feeds to receive updates.

18 Comments on “A tough customer”

  1. October 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    I just love there guys. I have spotted on on our reserve. Have you seen the videos on youtube about them? Amazing stuff.

    • October 6, 2011 at 7:10 am #

      Yes, the are quite incredible creatures. I’ve seen some of the Youtube videos – not animals to mess with!

  2. October 5, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

    Very interesting. We recently watched a badger take on a HUGE python- and win. (on tv)

    • October 6, 2011 at 7:16 am #

      They are vicious little beasties! There are stories of them taking on lions, but I think that would be a last effort at self-defence, rather than an attack initiated by the honey badgers.

  3. October 5, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    Fascinating. We don’t buy “badger-friendly honey”–but somehow I suspect we wouldn’t have it here in the US. Hmmmmm–I wonder why?

    • October 6, 2011 at 7:18 am #

      Kathy these honey badgers only occur in Africa, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. So you wouldn’t have the “badger-friendly” honey where you are. Although perhaps there are other creatures which attack the hives in the US?

  4. jacquelincangro
    October 6, 2011 at 12:51 am #

    Without being inside that Land Cruiser I imagine it would have been a frightening prospect to be face to face with 3 honey badgers. They look like fierce and awe inspiring animals.
    Thanks for helping me learn a little more about them.

    • October 6, 2011 at 7:19 am #

      Yes, I was very happy to be inside a vehicle with these honey badgers running around!

  5. October 6, 2011 at 4:09 am #

    They seem as curious as you are ! You got very close to take pictures that is fantastic and brave:)

    • October 6, 2011 at 7:21 am #

      Rayya, we were luckily in a vehicle when we met up with the three badgers. The solitary badger of the first sighting was about 50 metres away, but didn’t seem too interested in us. If it did attack we could have run back to our cabin for safety. Having a camera with a zoom lens also helps not to have to get too close!

  6. October 6, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    They look like tough little critters. I never thought of badgers this way.

    • October 7, 2011 at 7:35 am #

      The badgers of Europe (and children’s story books) are very different to these honey badgers. These ones are, as you say, “tough little critters”.

  7. Sarita Botha
    October 6, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    Very interesting.

    • October 7, 2011 at 7:35 am #

      I had always heard stories of honey badgers, so it was interesting to see them and find out more about them.

  8. October 6, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    Oh my god, that video is priceless. LOVE it.

    • October 7, 2011 at 7:38 am #

      I had to snip the first bit off the original video, because the image bounced around such a lot. But I think even in the little bit I do show here, you can see how the badger was behaving.

  9. October 7, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    Ha-ha! That is so cute – I thought I saw a bit of Rosie in that video too! 😉

    • October 7, 2011 at 8:06 am #

      It wouldn’t have been so cute, if we were face to face with the badgers outside of the vehicle. Funny you should mention Rosie – since I did this post I’ve been calling her my “little badger”! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: