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.
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.
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.
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
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:
- An oasis in the desert
- Take your camera to the bathroom (and other Kalahari safari tips)
- The Long Road North – Southern Cape to Upington
- The Long Road North – Upington
- Showing your kid where its food comes from
- Fierce Creatures
- Gemsbok Graphics
- The Long Road North – Upington to Twee Rivieren and beyond
- Campfire story: The Last Outpost
- Slip-Slap-Slop-Slide and other Bush Beauty Tips
- Hey Mom . . . wait for me!
- A tough customer (this post)
- Frenzy at the “water hole” – includes the movie
- The Camp Cat