Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Trouble with Honey Badgers

African honey badgers are fascinating creatures. Maybe you have already seen this YouTube video by Randall ( It has had 52 million views.
Watching the video (pirated from a TV doco with a very funny and somewhat accurate portrayal of the honey badger's "don't give a shit about anything" attitude) made us both want to see one of these critters in the wild. In fact, when I was in Botswana in June we found a honey badger hole that had been widened, probably by warthogs, till it was big enough to drive the front of a  small car into. But sadly no honey badger... 

Here's a night flash shot of a honey badger.
Cute to look at. Note the slight pigeon-toed front paws and its claws, designed for fast digging in rock hard desert soil.
This guy is about the size of a very large domestic cat. But there the similarity ends.
Typically carnivores, honey badgers will actually eat anything if they are hungry enough.
Here he's tucking into some fruit left-overs

Amazingly we saw two honey badgers at Okonjima's night hide. Officially called a ratel, the honey badger is similar to a polecat or a weasel and is principally carnivorous - although when we saw these two, they were hoeing into anything and everything that was on the table.
Honey badgers have very strong claws (hence the slight pidgeon-toed look), a thick skin that's almost totally impervious to thorns, arrows or spears, a loose pelt which makes them difficult to grip rounded off by a ferocious attitude to anything that corners or attacks them, regardless of size or danger. Honey badgers have been known to take on animals far larger than themselves including cape buffalo. I have read that the only way to kill a honey badger is to whack it on the head with a club or to shoot it with a gun. Anything else merely annoys it.

So, we turn up to the night hide armed with a bucket of kitchen leftovers. We flip open the hide viewing slit and there are two honey badgers already waiting in the dim glow of the hide lights.  However no sooner did the food appear when at least seven big porcupines also materialised out of the gloom.  The  larger of the two badgers (probably a male) makes a dash for the pile of food and lands slap into the middle of the mess. While it looked to me like suicide by porcupine, this turns out to be the smartest move. The badger knows the porcupines all want to get their rodent noses into the trough so, by lying along the length of the food pile, he gets first dibs on the scraps while not having to  deal with the very sharp quills.  A brilliant strategy. The female (I assumed) meanwhile circled around the backs of the porcupines and cleaned up leftovers.

Not the best shot but you can clearly see the honey badger literally lying in the food, snuffling.
All he has to deal with is the noses of the porcupines. For the moment he's safe from the quills.

At some stage in the melee, the males leaves and make a mistake - a porcupine reverses into him and he ends up with six quills embedded into his rear end. Does this stop his search for more food? Hell no! The honey badger, as Randall so eloquently describes him in his video, doesn't give a shit and just charges back into the food mess. This is amazing to watch - it's part animal pantomime, part entertainment, part education. The porcupines are getting cranky - with the badgers and the other porcupines. The badgers press on with their strategy.

Honey badger caught by the flash with - I don't know what in his mouth.
These were quite hard to shoot because there was almost no light - just a 60 watt bulb in the hide plus the light from two flashlights. I used a Canon 580EX speedlight and shot in Manual exposure mode using a 24-105mm lens: 1/60s @ f4, ISO 800

Great angle of the honey badger snuffling round the back of the porcupine melee.
The angle gives a good view of those long and sharp quills.
This shot shows the honey badger flat out on the food pile surrounded by potential pain.
But, in the words of YouTuber, Randall, "honey badger don't care what happens to him".

Good close up of a large porcupine. EF 24-105mm, 1/60s @ f4, ISO 800
After a lot of pushing and shoving, the male honey badger appears out of the porcupine melee complete with several quills sticking out of his rear end.  He seemed totally
unfazed by this. So much so that after all the food was consumed he
promptly sidled up to his girlfriend and started mating!

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