When David Livingstone first laid eyes on the Chobe River, he cried. It is recorded in one of the many journals that he kept. But it wasn’t from exhaustion, fear of drowning or even the thought of crocodiles lurking in its depths – he was deeply moved by the extraordinary beauty of the river. The Chobe is indeed a sight to behold – a yawning blue expanse of water, broken by reedy green islands and suntanning hippos. It’s a playground for elephants and a place where fish-eagles sound the voice of Africa, wild and uninhibited.
Infused in the very same idyllic African scene, I sit comfortably in my camping chair, gathering inspiration for the story I am trying to write. But, alas, my thoughts are up and away, levitating with little pied kingfishers and stotting with the red-brown shapes of lechwe on the far bank … and then drawn by the whale-like breeching of two romantic hippos popping up in front of me. Ah Africa … never a dull moment.
But suddenly, I catch something moving out of the corner of my eye. And the something is coming straight towards me. Instinctively I grab my Catti – baboons and monkeys have a way of picking on females. It may sound silly but ask anyone who has spent a lot of time in the bush and they will verify this somewhat shameful fact. But I was going to show this one … I may be a girl but I could be tough. Then I froze. It was certainly not a monkey. As it slunk past I held my breath … grey, black and white with a bushy tail … a honey badger! A honey badger on a mission. And where exactly was this mission leading him? Our rubbish bag. Although hidden between crates under a table, it was all too easily accessible for the badger.
In my mind I run through everything I know about honey badgers, which, despite having done a field-guiding course, is embarrassingly little. Now before you judge my seemingly violent reactions, you must understand that with a carefully thought-out camp comes a certain degree of pride. In fact, my dad has even been known to draw out a camp design on paper first – tents, kitchen area, fireplace, washing line and ‘toilet tree’ – all must be in perfect place. And as I was the only one in camp, it was my job to be brave camp defender. Besides, how could I just sit and watch this cheeky intruder strewing raw eggs and dirty paper plates everywhere?
I slowly creep closer, sneakily filling my pocket with stones and make my way on tiptoe towards the closest tent. Between khaki flaps, I take aim. ‘Bam!’ The sound makes me jump. But I have hit the Landrover instead. Boy will my dad will be pleased with that. Again I fire … but the animal hardly flinches. I try again. Highly frustrated, I decide to leave my place of safety and pick up a big log from the fireplace and charge at the badger, almost scaring myself. It stops rummaging and looks up, still for a moment, and I think I see a hint of menace in the creature’s eyes … then hhhhhsssss!!! A ferocious beast is coming for me with claws extended like knives. I have never seen such claws! Needless to say, I run for the tent and for my very life. Even as I write this, it’s hard not to shiver. I sit in the tent for another half-hour, until the honey badger trots off, mightily pleased with himself. He disappears into the bush … is he on his way to raid another unsuspecting camper? Whoever they are, I hope they will not be as foolish as I am! Later, I open my mammal book to reveal the facts.
Why you should NOT get on the wrong side of a honey badger
(Thanks to Richard Despard Estes’ ‘The Behavior Guide to African Mammals’):
- They may be small compared to other carnivores, but honey badgers are broad and powerfully built with razor-sharp claws (Digging ability is second only to the aardvark) and teeth and jaws adapted especially for crushing.
- Their skin is nearly impenetrable (6 mm thick around the neck) It’s also very loose, making it difficult for other animals to grip and allowing them to twist and bite their attacker.
- Folklore, also backed up by some circumstantial evidence, says that the ratel (the Afrikaans name for the honey badger) goes for the scrotum when it attacks large animals, including man.
- It can let out a foul smelling anal-sac fluid in self-defence
- The honey badger’s main defence is to attack and this does not depend on how big or how dangerous the opponent is. People, lions and even cars are not exempt from this behavior, and the animals have been known to bite tyres and scratch car doors.
- Black mambas, pythons, scorpions and tortoises (extracted from their shells) are all part of the honey badger’s very interesting diet, depending on habitat, size etc.
- Vocal sounds include growling, grunting, hissing, screaming and whining.
PLEASE NOTE: Leaving a rubbish bag out is a very irresponsible thing for a camper to do. Rubbish should always be away from the reach of animals!
The Honey Badger is a beautiful and interesting animal, best left unprovoked and viewed from the safety of a vehicle!
Learn more about the Honey Badger in the video: