Rumored to emasculate its prey and sham its own death, the solitary and reclusive honey badger, also known as the "honey ratel”, is one of the most rarely observed carnivores on the African Continent and clearly one of the most interesting. The honey badger, which gained much acclaim in North America from a, perhaps, wacky and sardonic 2011 viral video parody, has been described by National Geographic Channel's Ultimate Animal Countdown, as the most fearless animal in the world.
The famed parody dub of honey badger footage, originally aired by the National Geographic Channel, does showcase the tenacity and ferocity of these infamous scavengers and notorious bee hive invaders. But is it really possible to determine for certain if they are the most fearless animals on Earth? Well, they are certainly at the top of the list.
In fact, according to the website of the World Famous San Diego Zoo, which is one of four zoos in the United States to have recently exhibited honey badgers, “It would be hard to find a more quarrelsome animal than the honey badger. It doesn’t start fights it can’t finish and makes an impressive foe.” And, I should add that honey badgers don’t actually feed on honey, rather they raid bee hives in search of bee larvae. In reference to South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, the scientific name of the honey badger is Mellivora capensis and means “honey eaters of the Cape”.
Yes, pound for pound, the honey badger is often considered one of the toughest carnivorans (mammalian carnivores) on the planet, because they have been known to hold their own against larger predators like lions and African wild dogs (painted dogs). People often consider the honey badger to be very destructive, some times damaging property, including unprotected bee hives and for menacing and killing young livestock. However, nothing in the animal kingdom is more dangerous than humans. In their defense, honey badgers (AKA ratels) are not commonly observed marauding the bush in search of trouble. They are, in fact, rarely seen.
The ratel is found in low numbers throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa where they occur. A recent census of ratels in South Africa’s Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park indicated honey badgers may occur at densities as low as 0.03 adults per square kilometer. Sadly, they are persecuted throughout their range, which includes South Africa, Zambia and neighboring southern African countries.
Unfortunately, these opportunistic carnivorans can become easily habituated to humans if permitted to scavenge on refuse in the proximity of human dwellings. Consequently, honey badgers often succumb to directed control efforts and are also, often, casualties of non-selective control programs for other carnivore species like jackals.
Indeed, honey badgers are frequently unwelcomed visitors to livestock pens and apiaries. And so it is not uncommon to find honey badgers poisoned or captured in steel-jawed traps. Dangers to honey badgers are not just the obvious preemptive control programs or tactics used to depopulate nuisance species. To prevent human-wildlife conflict with species like the honey badger, Zikomo Safaris places great emphasis on securing trash and debris at the bush camp, and by protecting apiaries through modern day hive protection techniques."
Dr. Jordan Schaul is a NWCF board member and a former contributor to National Geographic's online editorial news publication News Watch: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/author/jschaul/