Written by: Don Scott, owner of Tanda Tula
So the reputation of the tenacious honey badger is legendary in the bush and many stories have been told of this creature’s incredible ability to take on adversaries far superior in size and power. I have a number of stories which will attest to this perception and this story, which happened a number of years ago, is one of my favourites.
Mid-summer in the Timbavati is a ‘hot’ time of year, and the evening of our story was no different. We had just sat down to dinner with a full camp of guests and the pervasive heat had us rolling up all of the blinds in the dining area and praying for a breath of wind. Little did we know, so concerned we were about filling our tummies and wiping the sweat from our brows, that some activity was developing within a few paces of the dining area that would have our adrenalin pumping only a few minutes later, and would leave one hard-of-hearing guest wondering what on earth he had missed.
It all began with some strange scratching noises coming from the communal guest bathrooms just behind the dining area. Dave, our assistant manager at the time, got up when he thought he heard some purrs and squeaks coming from the same place, and not wanting to alarm anyone, he discreetly exited and went to investigate. On his return, with a wavering voice, he whispered in my ear that he thought he had seen a lioness’s tail sticking out the guest loo door. Of course, I told him he was imagining it and that he needed to calm down and stop seeing things that weren’t there! Hearing some further noises, I went to have a look for myself.
I returned to tell David in my own wavering voice that there was definitely a lioness in the guest loo and that we had to take some emergency precautions to ensure we didn’t panic our guests, but also did not have the lioness coming to join us for dinner! To make matters worse, from the noises we could hear, it now became clear that a honey badger was sharing the small space of the guest loo with the lioness whose tail we had seen, and this was without doubt a recipe for a major wildlife battle in our midst. So a process began that saw us quietly rolling down the blinds of the dining area, putting some chair barriers around the dining area, while having whispered discussions of getting a firearm handy in case the whole situation went south.
Now, closing off the area with roll down blinds in the heat of summer was not a good idea, and it wasn’t 30 seconds before we were both being loudly chastised for this thoughtless and inexplicable act, with accusations of “too much wine” and something about “typical men” being uttered. Luckily for Dave and I, the noises from the guest loo revealed themselves just in time, and it now became obvious that we had animal visitors who were definitely too close for comfort and that our actions were explainable. Of course, the first things guests ask when they hear unfamiliar animal noises at night is : “what is it making that strange noise?” – and this evening was no different. Trying to maintain some semblance of calm in a dining room full of international travellers, we did what anyone else would have done in our situation….. we lied! “It’s just a honey badger in the toilet” we said, foolishly thinking that this explanation would satisfy our curious eco-tourists and send them back to their delicious desserts. We couldn’t have been more wrong!
The entire congregation of guests, except for the fellow with the hearing aid who seemed not to have noticed the commotion that was going on around him, rose and hurried out of the dining room towards the guest toilet in the hope of getting a peek of one of these elusive little night creatures. Clearly they were also uninitiated in the dangers of a close encounter with a honey badger, but who were we to throw a bucket of water on their enthusiasm? We tried in vain to prevent anyone from exiting the dining area, almost being trampled in the process.
As the first guests were clear of the dining area, the lioness chose this very moment to begin a series of earth shattering growls and snarls that left no-one in any doubt that Dave and I had slightly underplayed the full picture of the situation. They all turned around again and scrambled to re-enter the dining area through the same single door opening that they had used to exit. Needless to say, this attempt to defy the laws of physics and to force sixteen people through a space meant only for one, was as comical as it was desperate, leaving Dave and I struggling to not only get everyone back to safety, but not to die of nervous laughter in the process!
Thankfully we quickly had everyone back inside, albeit under the dining tables with only their bottoms sticking out. The next step was to post a guard at the entrance to the dining area, rifle in hand, in case the honey badger attempted to seek refuge under the dining tables with our guests! Being the brave chap that I am, I volunteered to make the ultimate sacrifice….. and posted Dave to guard the door with strict instructions to tell us exactly “what was going on out there”.
I have seen a lot of things in the bush, but what we saw next was truly incredible and not something I would have thought possible. Out of the guest loo came the honey badger, clawing his way slowly forward one sturdy front leg at a time. Initially it wasn’t clear as to what was causing him to claw his way so slowly forwards and then we saw that the lioness had latched herself onto the little fellow’s bottom and was holding on for dear life with her jaws and teeth. The honey badger seemed completely unhurt, whilst the lioness was shredded from head to chest. In fact the little tough guy of the bush almost seemed annoyed at having this lioness attached to him like a trailer.
As our flashlights shone on the lioness, she looked across at us, momentarily losing grip on the honey badger, who shot out like a bar of soap on a wet floor, and ran off into the darkness. The lioness was left panting and defeated, staring at Dave with a mixture of confusion and resignation, before she too skulked off into the darkness.