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The Ratel a.k.a Honey Badger

Scientific name: Mellivora capensis

The name ‘Honey Badger’ is derived from its supposed habit of following the Honeyguide bird to a bee’s nest where it will feed on the honeycomb and grubs. This however has been discredited, although they are fond of honey and are quite capable of finding and excavation it of their own accord.

How to Identify a Honey Badger

The Honey Badger weighs 8-14kg and is relatively short measuring 8-22cm. It is backed up by a powerful jaw, knifelike front claws, and exceptionally tough and thick skin, almost 6mm thick at the neck. Its coat has been described as “hog-like,” coarse and sparse, dark in colour, with a skunk-like, grey stripe from the forehead to the tail. It is broad and powerful, with stout, sturdy legs, and aided by exceptionally loose skin, the Ratel may twist its agile body about to grab its assailant.

According to African folklore (and backed up by some circumstantial evidence), the Honey Badger goes for the scrotum when it attacks large animals (Bull Buffalo, Wildebeest, Waterbuck, Kudu, Man) that have offered real or imagined provocation. Their aggression isn’t only taken out on mammals; there are many stories of Honey Badgers attacking moving Land Rovers and ripping off tyres.

Where to find Honey Badgers

The badger can be found in most regions south of the Sahara, except for deserts and lowland rainforest. The ratel badger can be found in most of West Africa, south of Morocco. Ratels are wide spread in Uganda but Uncommon and rarely seen


The ratel badger can live in almost any biome, wet or dry and elevations up to 1 mi (1700 m) which are generally the rainforest regions. The ratel badger will eat anything from insects (such as bees, ants and termites) to mammals to fruits and berries. The ratel can also easily dig for food-- especially the prey which is too difficult for most non-diggers to reach.


The ratel badger is considered diurnal and nocturnal and can easily adapt to the region in which it lives. The ratel can become diurnal or nocturnal depending on which is more efficient. In rural areas, for example, the ratel will sleep during the day and then hunt for food all night. It is an omnivorous feeder and will prey on reptiles and smaller mammals.

They have been known to eat pythons and have even mastered the art of opening the extremely tough shell of a Dung Beetle ball so they can get to the larva inside. The dustbins and rubbish bins of safari camps and lodges are also a favourite place for Honey Badgers to scavenge.

The South Africans have a saying, “so taai soos a ratel,” meaning, “as tough as a Honey Badger.” They probably have one of the strongest power to body ratio of any animal.
There appears to be no natural predators for an adult honey badger, which itself is evidence of how formidable this animal is, for it weighs no more than a medium-sized dog.

Social Systems

Ratels are generally seen alone and occasionally in duos or trios. Evidence shows that ratels probably form monogamous pairs for mating.


The gestation period is 6 to 7 months and there are typically 1 to 4 young born in a leaf- or grass-lined nest and have a lifespan of 15 years.

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