Written by Laura Patou
On an early morning game drive in a private game reserve near Kruger National Park in South Africa, we spotted a slim female leopard. As she arched her back and crouched low to the ground, it was clear she was stalking her prey. Following her eyes, we saw movement in the undergrowth which peaked her interest. From the black and white colouring and its weasel-like body, I initially assumed the youngster was a skunk. The ranger, however, identified the animal as a young honey badger and told us that they are “crazy” and that the leopard would not dare pursue the kill.
It was shocking to hear that a leopard would be fearful of a creature so much smaller and less muscular than herself, but the ranger explained that honey badgers are notoriously fearless and fierce. Their bodies are extremely flexible and they can literally turn around within their loose skin and bite their attackers. Their skin is also tough to penetrate which makes them difficult to maim.
They are also startlingly resilient creatures – a bite from a venomous snake is enough to put honey badgers to sleep, but not enough to kill them… they will wake up from their nap fresh as a daisy.
Mature and experienced predators tend to avoid honey badgers for these reasons…
Presumably, the leopard was hungry enough to take the risk, for when the mama badger scurried out of sight, the leopard zeroed in on the youngster who became a tempting target. Initially, the baby was trotting around and sniffing the ground, completely unaware of the leopard’s presence. Yet, there was a brief moment where the baby turned and looked at the leopard. Young and naive, the youngster did not instinctively run or attack – just stared, and the leopard stared back.
After a fleeting moment, the leopard pounced! Despite the ranger’s description of the honey badgers’ resilience, we thought the baby honey badger would surely become dinner, as the leopard tackled the little creature who cried out piteously. However, the cries continued for longer than we expected, indicating that the baby was no easy kill and was putting up quite a fight against the leopard.
Then, mama honey badger came to the rescue and raced to the scene. It was unclear whether the mama hurt the leopard to intervene or if the leopard was simply alarmed and scared by the presence of a full-grown honey badger.
Nevertheless, the leopard growled and jumped away, running from the scene with the mama badger scurrying behind her in pursuit until she was out of sight. When the coast was clear – for the most part – the mama honey badger grabbed her wounded and crying youngster by the scruff of its neck and carried it off to safety.
Watch the the action below, filmed by Laura Patou (click on the fullscreen icon to enlarge the video)