The honey badger, also known as a ratel, is a relatively small animal. It weighs only about 12kg but has long claws curved like knives, powerful jaws for crushing, and a giant-sized attitude. I’ve seen documentaries in which it stands its ground against much bigger animals like lions and leopards, or is bitten by a puff adder without long-term effect.
Rogers Morotsi Kesietswe, a professional guide at Duma Tau Camp in the Linyanti, takes up the story.
‘When I was working at Wilderness Safaris Kalahari Plains Camp I came to the parking area at the airstrip one morning and found a black mamba and a honey badger fighting.’ The camp is in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve – the largest conservation area in Botswana. Its greatest attractions are its Kalahari lions, cheetahs, brown hyenas – and of course the fierce little honey badger.
But don’t write the honey badger off yet.
It has very loose skin that can be up to 6mm thick around its neck. This is nearly impenetrable and allows it to twist around and grab an attacker in its powerful jaws. The records are full of examples of a honey badger taking on a snake and then serving it up as a tasty lunch.
Other favourite snacks include dung-beetle larvae, scorpions, spiders, tortoise and turtles, frogs, fish and even rodents, lizards and mongooses in burrows. The honey badger can smell its prey in a burrow and will use the same trick as an aardvark, blowing forcefully into a hole and then listening for a reaction. Make a sound and it will dig you out in double-quick time.
‘Although the honey badger was unconscious, after a few minutes it woke up,’ says Rogers. Predictably, it wasn’t going to give up – doesn’t understand the concept of defeat. So the two thugs went back to brawling until the black mamba struck again and the honey badger became unconscious once more.
‘It kept on like that until the honey badger just chewed off the mamba’s head and dragged the body off,’ he says. Luckily, the Kalahari is open so he was able to watch the winner lumber off with its characteristic pigeon-toed gait for a couple of minutes before it disappeared behind a bush.
‘Hopefully it enjoyed the meal, because its intention of doing that is not just to kill, but to eat,’ he says.
Now you know: if you ever see one in the wild, just don’t tick it off!
* This is part of a series called Voices of Botswana, which shares the stories of some of the people we met on our Botswana adventure. You can find them all in the people category of this blog.
Copyright © Roxanne Reid - No words or photographs on this site may be used without permission from roxannereid.co.za