Those of you who know what a honey badger is may have the preconceived idea of an aggressive, short-tempered and very dangerous animal when harassed or irritated. You would be right. There are not many animals, regardless of size, with as much resolve, resilience and confidence in their ability. With this being said, we get a very small glimpse into their lives, in fact, I have only ever seen honey badgers run away from my vehicle at Londolozi.
I have always wondered if that window into their natural life would widen. To my surprise on a cloudy and cold winter morning, the unexpected happened. While in pursuit of a leopard, with my tracker Lucky, and my friend and guest, Sergey, we stopped near Lex’s Pan to listen for alarm calls. While sitting in silence, a movement caught the corner of my eye, I had to look twice and then used my binoculars to look for a third time. It was a honey badger walking through a clearing. We sat quietly and watched him walk towards a rhino midden where he proceeded to forage.
Honey badgers are powerful diggers and believe it or not have similar abilities to an aardvark. They can unearth food that is inaccessible to most other animals. A rhino midden is the perfect place for dung-beetle larvae and other insects. From my understanding their eyesight and hearing compared to other larger carnivores is relatively poor. This was evident when its small eyes were covered in sand and rhino dung. Honey badgers and the rest of the mustelidae family (weasel, polecat and otters) also have the amazing ability to close their recessed ears when foraging and digging underground.
Our sighting didn’t end there, curiosity got the better of us and we decided to edge closer. We hoped that the feeding and the noise created might allow us the privilege to get a closer look at such a rare animal. During our approach, Lucky was worried that the honey badger may get wind of our scent and then flee. Honey badgers have an extremely acute sense of smell which they use to locate food and for social communication using their complex anal gland.
We moved the vehicle as slowly as possible and, with the wind in our favour, managed to get up to 60, 40 and then 20 meters away – we were eventually only 15 meters from its position. I was witnessing something that I have never seen before – an encounter with one of the most fascinating animals on the planet. Once the wind started to swirl, he would briefly stop digging to raise his nose in the air and once the wind died down, he would continue his activity. We were able to witness this special sighting for over 30 minutes before the honey badger decided he had enough to eat and trotted right past my vehicle and into the thicket.
This honey badger did not care!
The bush works in mysterious ways and it is the interesting chain of events that leads you to the unexpected and often special things that happen when we least expect it.
Written and Photographed by Londolozi Ranger: Don Heyneke
Filmed by Wildlife Photographer and Guest: Sergey Gorshkov