Frequently Asked Questions about the Honey Badger

What do their names mean?

Their scientific name Mellivora capensis mean "honey eater of the Cape", it refers to their well known liking for bee brood and the place where they were first described, The Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Their other common name -"Ratel" probably refers to the rattling sound they make when they are frightened and was probably taken from the Afrikaans language common in the Cape.

Are honey badgers invincible?

The Honey badger has been referred to as "the meanest animal in the world", and they are often considered to have no enemies, apart from man. However, in reality there are a number of records of them being killed by lion, leopard and on one occasion an African rock python. Some authors suggest that badgers are impervious to bee stings (and even bullets), but badgers have been stung to death by honeybees, particularly when they are caught in apiary traps (Kingdon 1989; personal communications). There is good evidence to suggest that, like other mustelids and viverrids (e.g. mongooses, hog-nosed skunks), badgers are less sensitive to venoms than many other mammals (personal observations). Experts in venom have suggested that honey badgers may develop immunity over their life time after numerous small injetcions of venom from bees, scorpions, and snakes. A badger bitten on the cheek by a pufadder, reacted to the bit and the site swelled up substantially but the badger survived and was active again 5 hours later.

Do Greater honeyguides (bird) lead honey badgers to beehives?

Greater honeyguides (Indicator indicator) are reported to lead badgers to beehives, whereupon the badger breaks open the hive and after feeding, leaves scraps for the bird. This relationship is an often-cited example of mutualism between a bird and a mammal and was first reported by Sparrman in 1786. Variations of this association appear regularly in the literature and the association is widely accepted as fact by the general public. This relationship continues to be a contentious issue amongst ornithologists and has never been comprehensively documented (Dean 1983; Dean et. al. 1990; Macdonald 1994). We have never seen this association despite seeing badgers break into hives on many occasions in areas where honey-guides also exist. We believe honey-guides might follow the badgers rather than the other way around

Do honey badgers emasculate their prey?

Honey badgers are reputed to go for the scrotum when attacking large animals. The first published record of this behaviour was a circumstantial account by Stevenson- Hamilton (1947) where a badger reportedly castrated an adult Buffalo. Other animals alleged to have been emasculated by honey badgers include wildebeest, waterbuck, kudu, zebra and man. This has also been reported by other African tribes, but no direct evidence exists to support this behaviour.

Do honey badgers form "pairs"?

Honey badgers do not form long lasting pair bonds., they are not monogamous and the male does not play a role in rearing offspring. While groups of two or three individuals are frequently sighted, these are not considered to be family groups and usually consist of a number of males traveling together searching for females, or males with a female in oestrus. Males will meet up and compete for a chance to mate with a receptive female during oestrus for a number of days. Juveniles spend an unusually long time with their mothers (14 - 18 months) and this explains why there has been confusion regarding sightings of "pairs". Since honey badgers show sexual size dimorphism with the male substantially larger than the female, male offspring can reach almost twice the size of their mothers before independence. Male honey badgers may also be found in groups consisting of as many as five individuals. There are also records of Honey badgers congregating at an abundant food source.

Can honey badgers "fumigate" a beehive with their scent glands?

We have never observed honey badgers to fumigate beehives with their scent glands, despite the fact that we have seen them break into bee hives on many occasions. Honey badgers release a potent scent when severely threatened. They may release the scent in response to numerous bee stings.

Where are some of the best places to see honey badgers in the wild?

Due to their fairly small size and solitary, reclusive nature, honey badgers are particularly difficult to see in the wild. While honey badgers are wide spread across most of Africa and beyond, most sightings do not last more than a few minutes, often as an individual trots across a road and disappears into the undergrowth. In South Africa the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park (formerly known as the Kalahari Gemsbok, South Africa) is an excellent area to see honey badgers, especially in the winter when they may forage throughout the day. In Namibia there are frequent sightings in the Etosha National Park, and in Zimbabwe badgers make a habit of raiding tourist camp dustbins during the night in the Mana Pools and Hwange National Parks (Nyamepi and Sinamatella camps). In Kenya, the Tsavo National Park is well known for sightings of honey badgers.

Where can I see honey badgers in captivity?

Honey badgers may be found in the following zoos: Bloemfontein Zoo (South Africa); Howletts Zoo (England); Johannesburg Zoo (South Africa); Zoological Center Tel-Aviv (Israel); Tel-Aviv University Zoo (Israel); Nehru Zoological Park (India); Riyadh Zoological Gardens (Saudi Arabia), Sharjah Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildife, United Arab Emirates, San Diego Zoological Garden, California, USA

How many subspecies of honey badgers are there in the world?

There are reputed to be as many as 10 subspecies of honey badgers, but most of these are based on variations in pelage colour and external characteristics and it suspected that these do not constitute actual subspecies. Genetic analysis is currently being carried out at Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

Are honey badgers sexually size dimorphic ?

It has been said that there is a lack of any pronounced sexual dimorphism in honey badgers. However, the Mustelid family is characterized by sexual size dimorphism so it is hardly surprising to find that male honey badgers are typically a third larger than females.

Do honey badgers have webbed feet?

Although some authors state that that honey badgers have webbed feet (Estes 1992; Burton 1835; Sclater 1900) there appears to be no evidence to support this. Honey badgers are however considered to be good swimmers (Kingdon 1977).

Why does the honey badger have such a long gestation?

Honey badgers are often reported in the literature to have a gestation of six months, and there are zoo records of 153 and 162 days gestation respectively. Certainly in the southern Kalahari and Israel gestation was recorded as six to eight weeks. It has been suggested that honey badgers have delayed implantation in the northern parts of their range , and this might explain the long gestation found in these zoo records but still needs to be confirmed.

How many young do badgers have ?

While honey badgers are frequently reported to have litters of more than two cubs (Neal & Cheeseman 1996; Estes 1992), little evidence to substantiate these claims could be found. In the Kalahari only one cub was raised at a time, though badgers have been recorded with two offspring on occasion (Johnstone- Scott 1981; Skinner & Smithers 1990; Rosevear 1974; Fourie pers. comm.).

Can badgers climb trees?

Some authors have suggested that badgers are poor climbers (Cornish 1916; Bryden 1900; Wood 1876) and are therefore unable to reach wild beehives (Dean 1985). However, provided that the surface is rough and wide enough to grasp, adults are competent climbers and in the southern Kalahari have been seen to remove a variety of raptor chicks from their nests, including Whitebacked vultures (Begg & Begg 2000a; Marlow 1983).

Do honey badgers sham death ?

It has been reported that honey badgers will play dead when wounded (Kingdon 1977; Estes 1992). Recently a badger was found lying on the edge of a road in the Phinda Game Reserve (Kwazulu Natal, South Africa). This individual appeared to be dead, but on closer inspection it chased the observer around his vehicle. This badger may have simply recovered from a case of concussion (D. Varty personal communication). No evidence for badgers shaming death were observed in the Kalahari.

Do honey badgers eat carrion ?

Badgers will certainly scavenge from carcasses, leopard kills and baits set by hunters. They are opportunistic carnivores and can also become a nuisance by raiding refuse bins in campsites (e.g. Mana Pools National Park and Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Kruger National Park, South Africa).

Do honey badgers cache surplus food ?

Badgers have been recorded caching honey comb, spring hares and snakes in the southern Kalahari.

Where can I obtain or buy a honey badger?

In South Africa honey badgers are a specially protected "red data" species and a permit is required to capture or keep one in captivity. They are considered "vulnerable" in the South African Red Data list and are listed on appendix III of the CITES agreement ( and cannot be bought as pets. If you are wanting to reintroduce honey badgers into a protected area, it would be best to contact the IUCN's Reintroduction Specialist Group.

How long do honey badgers live?

In captivity honey badgers can live up to 24 years but in the wild are only likely to live 7-8 years, may be less. Old honey badger teeth are badly worn and these individuals are probably more likely to be killed by predators.