Standing a mere 28cm (11 in) high, 77cm (30 in) long and weighing in under 16kg (35 lb), their size is not exactly daunting, and belies their fighting spirit. And yet they’ve been known to attack Lions and Spotted Hyaenas! It is a sturdy, muscular, unmistakable mammal with remarkable loose skin, allowing it to twist and turn freely when in a scuffle. Bee stings, porcupine quills, and animal bites rarely penetrate their skin. They also possess massive claws that can turn into formidable weapons at a moment’s notice.
The Honey Badger is placed in its own genus Mellivora, and is actually closer to the marten subfamily than the badgers. Some authorities view them as a form of outsized weasel or polecat. Its other name is the Ratel.
The Honey Badger has an extensive historical range that extends through most of sub-Saharan Africa from the Western Cape, South Africa, to southern Morocco and south-western Algeria, and outside of Africa through Arabia, Iran and western Asia to Turkmenistan and the Indian peninsula. It is known to range from sea level to as much as 4,000 m in Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains, and although it prefers drier areas, can occur anywhere from the Namib desert to the Zaire rainforests. It is probably the easiest to see them in South Africa’s Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Kruger National Park.
The Honey Badger has a varied diet, and accesses a large part of its food by digging it out of burrows. It favours honey and often searches for beehives. It also feeds on insects, frogs, lizards, rodents, snakes, birds, eggs and carrion. It also eats berries, roots and bulbs. In some parts of Africa, they have a very interesting symbiotic relationship with Pale Chanting Goshawks, with the two species helping each other in the search for food!
The Honey Badger is incredibly intelligent, and have been recorded creating and using tools, either to escape an enclosure or getting to prey. It is primarily terrestrial but can climb, especially when attracted by honey. It travels by a jog-trot but is tireless and trails its prey until the prey is too tired to continue.
Because of its wide range and occurrence in a variety of habitats, it is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (IUCN 3.1). In South Africa, Honey Badgers are a specially protected species and a permit is required to capture or keep one in captivity.
“Honey badger” is a frequently used nickname for professional athletes, especially ones known for being tough and fearless. Rugby union player Nick Cummins Australian Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo, Cuban footballer Osvaldo Alonso and American football player Tyrann Mathieu are notable athletes who have received the nickname at some point in their careers.
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