The Honey Badger
The Honey Badger
Pioneering project for honey badger research
Honey Badger carrying cub. Image courtesy: Begg
Conservation first as The City of Cape Town's Bio diversity Management Branch and the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve take on the task of rehabilitating an orphaned Honey Badger cub back into the wild.
The Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve, Back to Africa (Wildlife Vets), Cape Nature and Honey Badger experts Keith and Colleen Begg, are partners in this exciting project to rehabilitate and return a Honey Badger to the wild. In February 2006 a 3-month-old orphaned honey badger cub was rescued by farmers in Atlantis. It was found barely alive after it had been mauled by dogs. As not much is known about this threatened and secretive species during rehabilitation this project is a notable opportunity for us to learn more about this extraordinary creature.
Honey Badgers spend up to two years with their mothers learning just how to be a Honey Badger! The challenge of this rehabilitation project was to find a way to raise this animal while not letting it get imprinted by humans as it was taught to look after itself. The animal was placed in a secure enclosure under the care of Sandiso Kraai, a nature conservation student for the City of Cape Town, during 2006. Through unparalleled dedication and commitment, Sandiso was able to ensure that the badger survived and grew big and strong, yet maintaining its healthy fear of humans. Sandiso has done such a good job he won a prize from the Cape Technikon for his research project on the rehabilitation of the Honey Badger.
The real challenge now is to let the badger roam free and to asses how effectively he will be able to find food and look after himself. It is also anyone's guess on what he will do once released! Before being released, the badger will be implanted with a transmitter in order to enable conservation staff to track his progress. This is essential in order to assess whether the badger has been successfully rehabilitated and that he has rejoined the wild population. The number of Honey Badgers within the City of Cape Town is close to critical levels which make the genetics of each individual Honey Badger extremely valuable.
Although it sounds sweet the Honey Badger is a ferocious carnivore greatly skilled in hunting. Its diet consists of small rodents, snakes; rabbit, tortoises and various invertebrates. Honey Badgers are wonderful generalists not turning their noses up at anything edible! Yet rightly so the reference to its love of honey is what gets the Honey Badger into fatal trouble with bee keepers and farmers. It is now threatened with extinction due to indiscriminate poisoning, death by gun or dog and the extremely cruel gin trapping still practiced by farmers in the hope of deterring their penchant for honey. There are however many effective interventions which result in the "badger proofing" of bee hives. These methods need to be implemented to ensure that the badgers remain safe and that the farmers don't suffer economic losses.
Some little known facts about the honey badger:
- It can bite the heads off cobras and eat the whole snake showing not only incredible courage but remarkable immunity to the toxicity of the venom.
- Honey Badgers are skilled tree climbers and have to learn this behaviour from their mothers as it is not an inherited instinct.
- Honey Badgers have only one cub at a time and these cubs are dependant on their mothers to learn most of their hunting skills before reaching independence.
- It takes up to a year before a cub can be independent from its mother.
- Honey badgers are famous for their fearlessness and even the old badgers are able to fend off predators with their aggressive self-defence skills.
- Their other name is "Ratel" which is Afrikaans for rattle or honeycomb. It is also the term given to the SA defence force's most powerful armoured vehicle.
- Their name sounds sweet but this is a fearless animal and yet poses no direct threat to humans.
- It is considered a wolverine and can climb trees with almost the same agility as leopards
- Leopards and lions sometimes hunt honey badgers
- As the Honey Badgers (Mellivora capensis – which means the Honey eater of the Cape) are listed as near threatened in the Red Data Book for Mammals (2004), and the only one of its kind in its genus, The Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve is committed to the partnership which will hopefully result in the successful reintroduction of this animal back into the wild. Ironically this feisty creatures survival depends on our understanding of its behaviour patterns under rehabilitation in order to assess if this can be an effective way of managing the dwindling population.
Is this yet another example of the threatened extinction of a remarkable animal due to man's overwhelmingly selfish need to control all food sources and not share? Perhaps this is the lesson we can learn from these creatures and as such offer our support in getting to know them better.
To adopt the Honey Badger and make a contribution to this project please contact: