The Honey Badger (Mellivora capensis) is a tough, thick-skinned weasel, which is also why one of South Africa’s first Infantry Combat Vehicles took its name from the Afrikaans name of this creature, Ratel. They derive their English names from their fondness to raid beehives, which in the past has led to a lot of conflict between them and honey producers.
Honey badgers have a stocky build and short legs. They are primarily black, with a silver grey stripe on their upperparts, including on the top of their head. They have a short, bushy tail that is held erect while walking. Adults can grow 90 cm to 100 cm long and weigh 8 kg to 14 kg. Like skunks, they release a smelly liquid when in distress.
Males and females will only meet up for a couple of days to mate. Since there is no mating season, cubs may be born throughout the year.
Cubs are born naked and blind in a hole prepared by the female, after a gestation period of about seven weeks. Only one cub is born at a time. The cub is moved to a new den every few days until it is ready to accompany its mother on hunts at about three months of age. The eyes of the cubs only open up by the time they are two months old.
Killing and Feeding Pattern
Honey badgers are opportunistic carnivores, with anything smaller than themselves being considered prey, from insects to young crocodiles. They are primarily hunters, but may also scavenge or steal food from other animals and rubbish bins.
They are most active at night during the warm summer months and in the day-time during the colder winter months. In areas where they are not disturbed, they are usually most active early in the mornings and late afternoons.
Rogue individuals occasionally kill small livestock, with poultry, sheep and goats being the main targets. Honey badgers seldom kill the prey before they eat, but instead eat holes into the prey and sometimes even tear limbs off while the prey is still alive.
Only small quantities of the flesh are taken, usually meat from the face, such as the nose, cheek muscles or tongue. Prey is usually ripped open from below, with a large hole in the chest cavity.
Beehive being placed out of the reach of Honey Badgers.
Honey badgers are listed as a protected species in South Africa. Farmers need a permit to kill or move honey badgers.
Honey badgers are good diggers and have extremely strong front claws, which enable them to easily tear through wire netting. Kraaling, shepherds and guard animals are therefore the best methods to prevent losses.
The Badger Friendly Label was developed to indicate the production of honey in a way that does not harm badgers. Honey producers achieve this by raising their hives a few metres from the ground out of the honey badgers’ reach, by for example strapping the hives to poles.
According to the South African National Biodiversity Institute and Endangered Wildlife Trust, damages caused by honey badgers have declined by about 66% between 2001 to 2009, because of improved hive protection methods.
By Glenneis Kriel