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Honey Badgers @ National Geographic Magazine
   
Text and photographs by Colleen and Keith Begg



The tough Kalahari honey badger reigns as one of the desert's fiercest hunters.



Read this compelling excerpt, or print the whole story.

As the Kalahari Desert cools at twilight, a honey badger and her cub begin foraging for food—two of dozens of badgers whose habits we documented over nearly four years. Supported by the University of Pretoria's Mammal Research Institute and the Endangered Wildlife Trust, we established a 600-square-mile (1,600-square-kilometer) study area in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (jointly managed by South Africa and Botswana) and spent nearly 6,000 hours there observing wild badger behavior. We saw them confront enemies, mate, rear young, and hunt prey from insects to reptiles and rodents.
 
Honey badgers are famously tough. (South Africa's National Defense Force calls its armored personnel carriers ratels, the Afrikaans word for these beasts.) But we discovered that they're far from indestructible. Lions and leopards routinely kill them. The badgers' appetite for ravaging beehives (thus their common name) causes conflicts with commercial honey producers, some of whom shoot, trap, or poison animals they suspect of damaging their hives. Females have just one offspring at a time—not the multicub litters previously assumed—and though they care for their young for more than a year after birth, half of all cubs succumb to predators or starvation and die before achieving independence.


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Mothering, Badger Style
 
It's up to a female honey badger to take care of all her cub's needs. Since cubs are dependent on their mothers for more than a year, cub-rearing can take its toll. And while female honey badgers are just as accomplished hunters as their male counterparts, there is a big difference between the sexes.
 
Males need to consume more food each day than females because of their larger size. But Colleen and Keith Begg found that there were no significant differences in the amount of time spent intensively foraging each day. So while males eat all the food they catch, females with a dependent cub are "catching for two." When cubs are three to six months old they eat a quarter of the food caught by their mothers. And from six months until independence cubs eat about half of what mom catches. All this foraging is hard work. This is often particularly noticeable when females have male cubs that are 4 to 6 1/2 pounds (2 to 3 kilograms) heavier than their mothers but are still entirely dependent on mom for food.
 
—Michelle R. Harris
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Related Links
Honey Badger
www.honeybadger.com
Check out the Beggs' site on the honey badger for more information, photos, and to see what they are doing.

Badger Pages 
www.badgers.org.uk/badgerpages/honey-badger.html
If honey badgers' wily ways have piqued your interest, you can learn more about other badgers here. There is also an overview of honey badgers.
 
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
www.parks-sa.co.za/parks/kgalagadi/default.html
Find out more about the natural history of the park and the other animals you can find at Kgalagadi.

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Bibliography
Begg, C. M., K. S. Begg,  J. T. Du Toit, and M. G. L. Mills. "Sexual and seasonal variation in the diet and foraging behaviour of a sexually dimorphic carnivore, the honey badger (Mellivora capensis)." Journal of Zoology (2003), 301-16.
 
Begg, C. M., K. S. Begg,  J. T. Du Toit, and M. G. L. Mills. "Scent-marking behaviour of the honey badger, Mellivora capensis (Mustelidae), in the southern Kalahari." Animal Behaviour (2003), 917-29.
 
Verwey, R., C. M. Begg, K. S. Begg, and C. A. Matthee. "A microsatellite perspective on the reproductive success of subordinate male honey badgers, Mellivora capensis." African Zoology (forthcoming).

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