Alan Murphy
Australia AU

Alan is a travel writer and author of over 20 Lonely Planet guidebooks, including the guides to Southern Africa and Zambia & Malawi.

Category: Alan Murphy's Column

This week Alan takes a look at a small but feisty predator that likes to terrorise unsuspecting tourists in African bush camps. The honey badger (or ratel) is small, right? And it’s elusive, correct? Both true but it’s also ferocious!

This little fighter has been known to stare down young cheetahs in Kruger National Park. But it’s sooo cute too - kinda reminds me of an American skunk. But instead of smell glands this little fella has razor sharp teeth.

Meeting a Honey Badger
But where I’ve seen the honey badger at its rambunctious best is in camps where it approaches at night and skulks into view as it empties trash cans in front of huts and chalets. I tried approaching it once in the naive hope that I could shoo it away.

Yeah, right! There wasn’t a lot of shooing going on, instead it kinda hissed at me, looked me in the eyes and the whole vibe coming out of its little body was, ‘cmon try me’. Not likely. Sure go ahead and help yourself to the trash, I thought as I slowly backed away.

The Toughest of Critters
Honey Badgers are so tough that they are thought to possess an immunity to snake venom. Really! There’s a recorded case of a honey badger bitten on the face by a puff adder that recovered in five hours. They even eat snakes. Actually this carnivore eats most moving objects in the African bush. Anything from beetles and scorpions to hares, polecats and antelope. And at least one had its eyes on a skinny travel writer from Australia...

Sighting Honey Badgers
So, apart from keeping an eye on the dustbin in your camp, where else can you see honey badgers? In South Africa the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park is one of the best places for sightings.

In Namibia try Etosha National Park where they are spotted with some frequency, and in Zimbabwe badgers make a habit of raiding tourist camp dustbins during the night in the Mana Pools and Hwange National Parks. In Kenya, the Tsavo National Park is well known for sightings of honey badgers.

One extraordinary detail about honey badgers is their apparent symbiotic relationship with honeyguides. These birds supposedly lead honey badgers to beehives whereupon the badger breaks open the hive and leaves the scraps for the bird. If only we could all get along so cooperatively...

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