I was staying in Botswana’s Linyanti concession, at Camp Linyanti when I had this amazing sighting. Game drives in the area are on shaded well-worn roads, which wind underneath beautiful mopane woodland. As we came around a corner there were two honey badgers – mother and baby – right on the edge of the road.
Surprisingly, the mother ran off leaving her youngster behind. He was crouching in a small hollow, staring up at us with big adorable eyes and seemed rather shy.
But these first impressions of mine were rather naïve. We moved a little closer in order to get a better angle but this did not please the little badger. When a honey badger feels threatened – even a very small one – their instinct is to attack. He ran out, hissing violently and bearing his razor-sharp teeth. It was astonishing to see such confidence in such a small creature.
We took a few pictures and then left him alone. I couldn’t help imagining the youngster running home to his parents: “Dad! Dad! Guess what!? Mom and I saw a BIG cruiser, it was HUGE Dad! And Mom was too scared so she ran away but I was so brave, and I chased it away all on my own!”
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 (6mm 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 behaviour, 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.
The honey badger is a beautiful and interesting animal, best left unprovoked and viewed from the safety of a vehicle!