Tag Archives: ratel

As tough as …. a Honey badger

I thought I would lighten up a bit after blogging twice about the killing and culling that takes place in nature in Africa.  Time for a change and something different.  We traveled extensively in Botswana in August/September and spent a few days in the Central Kalahari revisiting Passarge Valley for a couple of days.  When we were there last we had fantastic lion sightings and were lucky enough to see lions again on our way into the area.  This blog is not about lions, however, but the fabulous sightings we had of Honey Badgers (Mellivora capensis).

Beautiful specimen of a Honey Badger

On our first visit to Passarge Valley, our companions, Jon and Hillary, boasted about all the Honey Badgers they’d seen there on a previous visit.  Unfortunately for us it was the wrong time of the year for them and we came away disappointed because we didn’t see any.  Our timing on this trip was perfect though and we saw literally dozens of Honey Badgers.  We were fortunate to come across this magnificent fellow very early one morning and spent an enjoyable hour or so watching him scratch for food.  It was interesting to see how he rested his head on the ground as his front feet worked furiously at the ground.  It must have helped him maintain his balance and keep a very close eye on whatever he was unearthing.

Digging furiously for a meal

Honey Badgers are normally solitary animals, but they do also forage in groups of two or three.  One is most likely to see them at dusk or shortly after dawn as they are nocturnal and sleep during the daylight hours.  Their coats are quite beautiful – black on the lower half and silver/white on top – it almost looks like a cape draped over the back and head.  They are sturdy and stocky animals and have really powerful claws that are put to good use when digging for spiders, scorpions, ants and the occasional reptile.

Check out those claws

In southern Africa they are also known as Ratels and have the dubious honour of having an Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) named after them.  These robust vehicles are designed to withstand landmines and are heavily armoured – implying that they are just as tough as the animal.  Honey Badgers, as their name suggests, love honey and often form alliances with Honeyguides,  little birds also known as Indicator Birds.  They move along together until the Honeyguide finds a bee’s nest, which the tough ratel then rips open and they both enjoy the feast.  We didn’t see any Honeyguides, but this little Ant-eating chat followed our badger around and managed to scrounge some insects from the diggings once the badger moved on.

Honey Badger followed by an Ant-eating Chat

The Honey Badger is impervious to bee stings and because it is quite aggressive it doesn’t have many predators.  The main ones are lions and, funnily enough, pythons!  Females usually give birth to two young ones after a gestation period of about six months.  Honey Badgers can live for over twenty years.

Beautiful specimen of a Honey Badger

If you’re keen to see one (or many) in the wild, be sure to visit the Central Kalahari during August and September.  And do stay in your car as they can be very dangerous.  We saw some foreign tourists, out of the safety of their vehicle,  trying to photograph one about a metre away from where he was foraging.  Not a good idea!!!

Honey Badger - Passarge Valley


Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 3

We changed campsites three times at Rooiputs as we couldn’t get bookings at one particular site for the whole duration of our stay.  In fact very often the campsites were purported to be fully booked and we ended up being the only campers there.  Travel agents apparently make block bookings and then fail to come with clients.  This is unfortunate as people are turned away when in fact there are sites standing empty.

The birdlife around the campsite was always interesting.  Rob managed to track down the Barn Owl that we had found in the A-frame.  It had taken up residence in a nearby tree, obviously not planning to come back until we had left.

Barn Owl
Another lovely bird to photograph is the little Pygmy falcon that is so prevalent in the Park.

Pygmy falcon

We had a very productive game drive on our last afternoon of the holiday.  We took a drive a short way past the Kij Kij waterhole and Rob spotted an African wild cat (Felis lybica)  in a tree.   (How he  saw it amongst all those branches is still a mystery!)  These wild cats, that closely resemble domestic tabby cats, are mostly nocturnal, which made our daytime sighting all the more gratifying.

African wild cat

On the same drive we came across a pair of Tawny Eagles in a tree, which we photographed.  We later found out that they had caught a snake, that can be seen pinned under the foot of one of the eagles.  Amazing what one could miss with the naked eye!

Tawny eagles with a snake

Another bonus was a Honey Badger, known in Afrikaans as a ratel (Mellivora capensis).  The Honey Badger, which gives off a foul smell like a polecat when threatened, is tough and aggressive, so has few enemies.  They mainly hunt at night, but are often seen in the early morning or evening.  Their gait is rolling and they keep their noses close to the ground as they hunt for food – bees, honey, fruit, scorpions and reptiles.

Honey badger

We saw literally dozens of leopard tortoises in the Park.  This tiny one was battling to climb to safety from the road.

Tiny tortoise

Everyone knows that awful feeling when a wonderful holiday has come to an end.  The sadness at knowing that we’d be leaving behind wonderful friends, amazing birds and animals and the freedom of the great outdoors.  Our special evenings around the campfire chatting about the day’s sightings would be sorely missed, as would the jovial sundowner times at our various ‘lone tree pubs’ out in the bush.  But we had so much to be grateful for and we always had next year to look forward to – wherever the next adventure would be.

Sunset through the A-frame

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is truly one of Africa’s great game reserves.  If you have the right vehicle and don’t mind bad roads, then it really deserves to be on your list of ‘must do’s’.

Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 1 | Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 2 |
Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 3 | Trips