Honey badger:1 chicken:0
Have you ever seen the look on a dogs face when confronted with a cat that fights back? There is utter confusion about his role in life, “hang on a minute that cat is way smaller than me, I could stomp her in a second, but now she’s scaring me?” our imaginary dog says. Well that’s about my reaction the first time I came face to face with a honey badger.
Honey badgers are small, reaching somewhere between your ankle and your knee and no more than 1 meter long. They weigh around 10kg but don’t let these dimensions fool you; a honey badger is full to the brim with confidence.
Most small animals will run when they find themselves face to face with a human; a sensible option given our species general nature. A honey badger on the other hand probably won’t and this can be very disconcerting.
One night I was sat round a fire in what classed as my garden, though in reality there was nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the bush surrounding us as home was in a nature reserve and there were no fences. It was a crisp, for the lowveld in South Africa, winters night and the stars were shining brilliantly as we sat in the sand by the fire waiting for the chicken to finish cooking. From the other side of the river the hyena started their whooping and the hippo disputed the rights of some patch of dry grass. Winter is the dry season here and things get difficult especially for bulk grazers. The African night sounds had as captivated as usual. The chicken smelt good. My husband was just about to rouse himself to check it one last time when we both heard something moving behind us in the dark. As it got closer we saw it was a honey badger moving at a lopping determined gait that they have straight towards us. It was a wonderful treat to see one of these guys close up and for a few seconds we were rapt. But it didn’t stop. It trotted straight to the grill, a small pause to give us a low growling warning and chomp, there went half our chicken. We couldn’t believe our eyes, this wasn’t a hand reared animal or an animal in a public campsite in a national park that gets used to people, this was a real live wild animal. It had no fear of us, it totally wrong footed us as we were not expecting it to just bull doze its way in. Needless to say we grabbed the rest of our meal and took it into the safety of the house to finish in peace.
Honey badgers really are remarkable creatures. Whilst in search of food they can cover up to 30km in a night. They eat a varied diet of mammals, birds, reptiles and some roots and berries and of course honey when they can get it. They climb well and can swim; they will dig furiously to follow a rodent down a hole and just don’t seem to give up in their pursuit of prey.
Honey badgers are tough and there are many stories about them killing buffalo, fighting lions, being bitten by cobras and surviving. One of the tricks they use to help evade predators is by having very loose skin around the back of their necks. A lion or leopard will grab for this area, coming up with a mouthful of skin but leaving the vital bones and muscles untouched. The honey badger can then twist round and start biting and scratching with it all its might often inducing the dog/cat scenario from the start of this blog i.e. predator dropping honey badger in utter surprise.
So next time you classify a honey badger on Snapshot Serengeti remember it’s not always size that counts.
A few years ago I was with a tour group on the Triangle, an almost featureless area of Serengeti’s short-grass plains. It was late morning. We saw a speck moving towards us from the horizon, and as it neared us, we saw that it was a honey-badger. Without slowing at all, he relentlessly careered towards our land-cruiser, and flung himself at a front wheel with ferocious snarls and growls, repeatedly biting the tyre.
Having beaten us into submission, he continued lolloping along his solitary path from nowhere to nowhere.
Gotta respect that attitude!