The excitement of spotting your first leopard and the thrill of being part of a pride of lions bringing down their prey, overshadow the smaller more secretive members of our Bushveld society. Often only seen for a fleeting moment before scuttling off to hide in the thickets nearby. Secretive animals by nature, the Honey Badger and the Porcupine are mammals rarely seen acting out their rituals for survival and so much is still to be learned about their habits.
Early one cold winter’s morning, as we bumbled along a dusty two track road a rather large shadow moved in the distance and stretched across the road. We could not quiet make out details, so we slowly crept forward trying to get closer without spooking the animal. As we got closer the outline of a Honey Badger became apparent, as it quickly retreated to the safety of the thicket. Excitedly we approached noticing that the other half of the shadow was still lying in the road. We realised it was a dead Porcupine and that the Honey Badger was feeding on it.
The Badger had not moved off very far and realised his cover was blown. He trotted off quickly and vanished.
Curious about what had happened, we carefully approached the scene. Mindful of the clues lying on the ground and potential dangers around, looking for tracks and signs that could help determine a theory as to what had happened. Was the Porcupine a victim of the Honey Badger’s hunger?
We could see drag marks, tracks from both species, quills dropped and a blood trail. There was no evidence to suggest leopard, lion or hyena and I couldn’t recall if I had heard or read anywhere that Badgers kill large species like Porcupine. Could the Honey Badger have killed it?
We waited quietly at a distance to see if the Honey Badger would come back and continue to feast. To our disappointment he never returned and we thought that our presence had possibly caused him to abandon his meal. We headed back to camp and decided to check up on it later.
Later on in the day, we checked on the scene, the Porcupine still lay in the road and the Honey Badger had returned and was trying to drag it off! As soon as he realised we were there, he turned and trotted off, disappearing into the thicket once more, grumbling like hell as he went. We backed our vehicle up and sat dead still, mentally willing the badger to return and claim his prize.
We sat frozen for more than an hour but eventually it was time to head back to camp, believing that this was definitely as good as it was ever going to get, yet disappointed that we could not assess the Honey Badger and have come to a better conclusion.
Had the Honey Badger in fact killed the Porcupine? The burning question, back at camp nagged for one last follow up.
Back at the scene, the Porcupine still had not been moved. Filled with anticipation and the hope of third time lucky, we positioned ourselves and began the wait. We sat breathless straining our ears for any sound of movement in the long grass, our eyes scouring every inch of bush around for vegetation movement and poised with cameras ready for that fleeting moment.
Rustling grass nearby alerted us that the Honey Badger may in fact be heading back one more time… We held our breath. The grass moved in the direction where the Porcupine lay… then movement stopped… then started moving again but in the opposite direction. To our dismay it went quiet again, leaving us hanging with anticipation…
Then further up the road there was more rustling and suddenly the Honey Badger appeared in the road. Adamant on taking his prize, he cautiously made his way towards us and the Porcupine. He braved our presence, giving us the opportunity to see a quill buried deep in his right shoulder as well as two serious wounds on his back. Leaving no more doubt that he had in fact taken on a Porcupine equal to his size!
On reaching the Porcupine the Honey Badger gave a few hard tugs at it and then looked up one last time. He snatched his quarry up and hurriedly dragged it off, disappearing for good… carrying the wounds of what must have been an epic battle.