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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!