Ratel (Honey Badger)
The ratel (Mellivora capensis), also known as the honey badger, is a member of the Mustelidae family. They are distributed throughout most of Africa and western and south Asian areas of Baluchistan (eastern Iran), Pakistan and Rajasthan (western India). It is the only species classified in the genus Mellivora and the subfamily Mellivorinae.
Honey badgers are similar in size and build to the European badger. They are heavily built, and have a broad head with small eyes, no external ears, and a relatively blunt snout. The head-and-body length ranges from 23.62 to 40.16 in (60 to 102 cm), plus a tail of 6.3 to 11.81 in (16 to 30 cm). The animal’s height at the shoulder can be from 9.06 to 11.81 in (23 to 30 cm). Adult body weights vary from 12.13 to 30.86 lb (5.5 to 14 kg). There is a considerable difference between the sizes of males and females, with males sometimes weighing up to twice as much as females. The legs are short, but the forelegs are well developed, and the fore feet are equipped with strong claws, which can be up to 1.57 in (40mm long).
Found in the Kalahari Desert, the ratels are fierce carnivores with an extremely keen sense of smell. They are very well known for their snake killing abilities, by which they will grab a snake behind the head in its jaws and kill it. It will then devour an entire snake (5ft) in 15 minutes.
Ratels have such a great appetite for ravaging beehives that there has been cases of dead ratels being found stung to death within the hives they were trying to eat. They can take hundreds of stings (even from the fierce African bees) before retreating a great distance. Commercial honey producers do not take kindly to this destruction and sometimes shoot, trap, or poison ratels they suspect of damaging their hives.
Some sources say that a bird, the honey guide, has a habit of leading ratels and other large mammals to bees’ nests. When a ratel breaks into the nest, the birds take their share too. Other sources say that honey guides are only known to guide humans.
The ratel is among the fiercest hunters of the desert. Their prey includes earthworms, termites, scorpions, porcupines, hares, and even larger prey such as tortoises. They also hunt crocodiles up to 3 ft (I m) in size, and snakes (including pythons and venomous species). Its ferocious reputation extends to attacks on animals much larger than itself. Several African tribes report that the honey badger attacks the scrotum of larger mammals if provoked and has even castrated humans. While these reports remain uncorroborated by firsthand evidence, there is some circumstantial evidence such as remains of castrated waterbuck and gnu found in Kruger National Park.
The honey badger can eat dangerous venomous snakes, most often the puff adder. If bitten the honey badger will become severely swollen and paralyzed unable to move for two to three hours. After this period of time the honey badger will re-awaken and continue with its meal or continue its journey. Even more tenacious, is that a honey badger will gladly steal a snake’s kill. They will eat it and then continue to hunt the snake. This ferocious nature of the badger has earned it its image as a formidable creature.
It will also dig into burrows of small rodents in order to flush them out to chase down and act as a small meal. Because of the honey badgers large front claws, its ability to dig into burrows is very effective and so most opportunities once a rodent is located are successful. The problem lies with the fact that other wildlife are aware of this and birds of prey and jackals are usually nearby ready to steal any kills which manage to squeeze past the honey badger.
A healthy adult honey badger has virtually no predators. This is because of their ferocity and thick, loose skin that make one difficult to grip, suffocate or kill. Old, weak honey badgers may fall prey to leopards, lions and pythons. Even old honey badgers can and will defend themselves as vigorously as possible. In one case, a leopard attacked an old female honey badger that was nearly toothless and had one blind eye. It took about one hour for the leopard to kill it.
Mating and Cubs
Courtship once a female honey badger comes onto heat is very energetic. Once a male is accepted as a mating partner after days of deliberation, the badgers will remain in a burrow for 3 to 4 days mating. Once pregnant the female badger will give birth to a cub 2 months later. Once born the cub is almost a complete replica of its mother only much smaller. As it grows, it learns to be aggressive to any other creature as it travels across the desert. It relies upon its mother for food and shelter as they regularly move and she digs new burrows. Cubs can handicap a honey badger’s hunting. Therefore, they are usually left back at the den, where they can be vulnerable. It has been documented that other honey badgers will drag cubs from their dens and attack them, attempting to kill them. Due to cannibalistic threats such as this, only half of honey badger cubs will live into adulthood.
As the cub grows up, its ability to navigate the tough terrain of the desert improves by learning from its mother. Not only walking, but also climbing trees to chase snakes. The honey badger is not born with these skills, they must be learned, as they are vital for survival.