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Battle between Honey Badger and Bee-keepers

Friday, 23 August 2013

As always, Friday was filled with excitement and activities at Eco-Rangers. At first it seemed somewhat unfortunate that we were working indoors when the weather was perfect for something out in the open. As it turned out, we were able to enjoy both indoors and outdoors.

The topic for the day was that of Honey Badgers and Bee-keepers. The indoor activities included a presentation by Andreas which had the children completely engrossed. As anyone who has ever joined one of our meetings will know; Andreas has a way of captivating the minds of all age groups. Of course the honey badger is a rather adorable creature that any child would want as a plush toy to cuddle . . . and they produce really cute babies which are called kits or cubs. I have also heard them to be called whelps.

Badgers captured on camera at Vergelegen Estate

Badgers captured on camera at Vergelegen Estate


Cute and cuddly as they might look, it is best to admire these creatures at a distance as they are tough and can be somewhat aggressive. They have been known in some cases to fight off big cats such as Lion or Leopard. It is no wonder this creature is classed as one of the most fearless creatures on the planet.

Another name for the Honey Badger is a “ratel” or in latin ‘Mellivora capensis’. And in Swahili, this animal is called the Nyegere.

The honey badger is a medium sized animal weighing between 6 to 15 kg’s. This might not be very big, however, within this medium sized body comes incredible strength and tenacity. Combine strength, a fearless nature and a sweet tooth and you have an animal that will go to any length to retrieve a sticky meal hidden in the golden stores of honey. Yes, the honey badger has a fetish for bee larvae hence the name Honey Badger. The bee larvae provide a delicious and nutritious meal for the honey badgers.

Here lies the problem in that the badger causes considerable damage to the bee hives or apiaries. As a result, some beekeepers take the decision to kill honey badgers by using gin traps and poison baits.

Badgers caught in traps

Badgers caught in traps


This is a tragic and cruel action to take as the animals most often suffer. Of course other animals are also killed by these methods. To add to that, the Honey Badger is regarded as “rare”. They are listed as “vulnerable” in the Red Data Book for mammals. This means that they may become endangered if their numbers decline further. Anyone wishing to catch or kill these animals is required to acquire a permit to do so.

What is the solution? We all enjoy honey and so we need our bee-keepers. Killing badgers is not the answer as this is destructive, unethical and these animals are becoming rare. It is also known that badgers are not territorial and as a result, more badgers will move in when others have been killed off. What is required is adequate beehive protection so as to reduce conflict between honey badgers and bee-keepers.

In recent years there has been progress made in producing cost effective, long-term solutions for protecting beehives. You can look out for honey sold in the shops displaying the badger friendly mark. Of course not all bee-keepers are utilising these new and effective methods either due to cost, lack of education / knowledge of these methods or because they are completely unaware of the issues at hand. It all comes back to communication and education.

Below are some of the successful methods which bee-keepers are using to protect their hives:
1. Raised protection – this is where bee-keepers raise their hives above the ground by one metre or more. The stands need to be sturdy and well-secured and the beehives must be fastened to the stand by wire or other means.
2. Ground protection – here beehives are placed on or near the ground in areas highly susceptible to badger damage and are not recommended. In these areas, bee-keepers need to use robust, well built hives which are well-maintained. These hives need walls, lids and bottom boards to be constructed from thick timber. Marine glue, metal tabs and wooden screws are preferred over nails. Finally, all hive components must be fixed with staples, steel strapping or baling wire. These hives are then pegged to the ground to prevent the badger from rolling it over.

It is clear, we need both or bee-keepers and our badgers. They both play an important part in the world today.

Andreas showing the children a mounted badger

Andreas showing the children a mounted badger


With just a little understanding, some education, a few positive changes and us (humans) learning to live in harmony with our fellow creatures; we can have honey and our badgers can live their solitary lives undisturbed.

Before moving onto our next activity, here are some interesting facts about these beautiful creatures.

An appetizing meal: a badger will prey upon creatures such as venomous snakes and some larger mammals like spring hares, bat-eared foxes and young Cape foxes. They will also climb trees to raid nests for eggs. Beetles, scorpions, lizards, and rodents are found on the menu. They also like to eat roots, berries and bulbs.

Our Genets busy making Badgers

Our Genets busy making Badgers


Eeeek! How do they eat kill and eat snakes? The skin of this animal is extremely tough with the skin around the neck being around 6 millimeters thick. This is how the badger is able to avoid snake bites. Apparently the skin is so tough that a spear is unable penetrate it. Another trait helping with attacking snakes is the aggressive and defensive abilities this creature shows.

Clever ears: The badger has ears that are not easily visible. They have little internal ears that can be folded out as and when required by the badger. These ears are more like thick ridges of skin that can pull closed when the badger digs or disturbs nests of biting or stinging insects.

One of our youngest Genets painting his Badger

One of our youngest Genets painting his Badger


A nose for tasty treats: Honey badgers have an acute sense of smell which they use to discover their prey.

A bad smell: Badgers have an anal pouch. This pouch produces smells so awful you’d think you might suffocate. It is thought the smell assists in calming the bees when they raid the beehives. Of course it would keep any predators at bay.

Best friends: For many years it has been believed that the greater honey-guide leads the badger to a beehive. The badger then breaks open the hive, enjoys the honey and larvae and then departs. The honey-guide is then free to feast on the remaining larvae and beeswax (presumably this bird finds wax worms and scale insects in the wax) which it likes. Despite popular belief, there is no evidence that a honey guide will lead the honey badger to a hive. There is much dispute over this fact as some say it does happen while others will insist otherwise. The only similarity seems to be that they rely on the same source of food.

Yolanda modelling a Badger for the Caracals

Yolanda modelling a Badger for the Caracals


To end the exciting topic of Badgers and Bee-keepers, the children were divided into their groups and moved outside under the shade of the cool, rustling trees. Here they were joined by Yolanda from Kids Clay. Yolanda spent a few moments modelling a badger with the children while explaining the basic techniques of modelling with clay. With instructions given out, some heard an others not, the children were set free to play, express themselves and create. Andreas provided a taxidermy (stuffed) mounted badger for the children to study and observe while working.

The children embraced clay work with ease and it wasn’t long before we saw some exceptional badgers forming. Of course Yolanda, along with the Eco-ranger team were there to guide those who were a little unsure, however, most required little help.

There is no doubt about it; the clay work is certainly therapeutic and this was noted for all the age groups. The Eco-Ranger children are often excited and needing to run around and make noise after a day in school . . . today they were settled and calm children focusing on the subject at hand. They were engaged and engrossed in their work. I guess clay work gives children a sense of freedom and control at the same time. In the calm atmosphere the children could practice their observation skills while prodding, pinching and smoothing the cool clay. We had some very interesting badgers with huge teeth, others with extra long claws and some were modelled as if they were climbing a tree stump.

Completely absorbed with painting the badger

Completely absorbed with painting the badger


It was fulfilling for us as the Eco-Ranger team to see the happy faces as the children worked. We look forward to seeing the final pieces once Yolanda has completed the glazing process. Hopefully with badgers in hand, we will see joy along with pride and self worth. And of course the badgers can be kept somewhere special in the home for years to come.
A completed badger made by Nikka

A completed badger made by Nikka


A special thank you to Yolanda for sharing the discovery and joy of creation through working with the medium of clay.

As a final end to the day, we were able to enjoy the gentle, yet haunting song of the spotted eagle owls living in the thicket around the EEC. There were two owls and did you know the male calls with two hoots: “Hooo hooopoooo” and the female answers with three: “Hooo hoo hooo”

Our next meeting is meant to be a fun filled walk to the Disa Gorge, however, the weather looks set to be stormy. There is always a plan B at Eco-rangers . . . so you can look forward to some indoor fun.

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