Around four foot from nose to tail and standing up to 11 inches at the shoulder, the Honey Badger or Ratel is not exactly cuddly. Found largely in Africa and the Far East, honey, though not their staple diet, is certainly a favoured delicacy and a prize for which the well protected creature will happily risk a sore nose. Before attacking the hive the animal will use its anal skunk like glands to fumigate the bees in the same way beekeepers use smoke, releasing a suffocating odour that stuns and kills the bees before attacking the hive and relying on its thick coat to protect it from the stings of the survivors. Often led to the beehive by the honey guide bird, which tucks in to the leftovers, the Honey Badger will swiftly demolish a hive eating all the honey, larvae and wax in minutes
One of the fiercest hunters, the Honey Badger will attack and eat almost any animal insect or reptile it comes across from worms to scorpions, porcupines to tortoises, to even the odd small crocodile. It is totally fearless, attacking animals much larger than itself such as buffalo and antelope that it is said to first castrate then leave the victim to die from blood loss before dining on the carcass. Even lion, leopard and man have been attacked on rare occasions and vulture’s nests high in trees raided for their eggs.
Another favourite dish is snake, the deadly poisonous cobra and puff adder standing no chance as the Honey Badger, even if bitten during the death fight, will merely swell and become paralysed for a couple of hours before recovering to resume its meal. They seldom fall prey to pythons, wolves, bears, lions, tigers or leopards because apart from the ferocity of attack their thick loose skin makes them hard to grip and they are able to twist inside their skin to bite their adversary.
Born in burrows the chief danger to the cubs is being dragged from the den and eaten by other passing Honey Badgers resulting in only a fifty percent survival rate. Honey badgers are not born with climbing or snake killing skills but must be learn them, as they are vital for survival. So when the cubs are old enough to leave the den with their mother it is for a short intensive course in killing that they must pass or subsequently die.
In a recent study undertaken by the magazine Scientific American it was found that pound for pound the honey badger is the world’s most fearsome land mammal as a result of its favourable claw to body ratio and aggressive behavioural tendencies.
Which leads us to the conclusion that on occasion the word Honey is not necessarily a term of endearment.