A weekly feature named ‘The Hunter’s High Road.’ Each Tuesday check back to see an animal that represents the apex of predatory evolution. Carnivores come in a range of shapes and sizes, using a variety of tricks to catch their prey. Some are powerful, some are beautiful. All are deadly.
When thinking of the most fearless animal in the world it’s easy to imagine something large, like a bear or lion. But that title belongs to something much smaller. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most fearless animal in the world is the Honey Badger. A member of the mustelid family, Honey Badgers have more in common with weasels than other badger species. The animal’s fearlessness is one of many reasons it’s being featured in this week’s Hunter’s Highroad.
Reaching up to 77cm in body length, Honey Badgers are native to Africa and are armed with a set of skills that help them survive the harsh environment. Alongside sharp claws and teeth they have thick skin that is resilient against damage.
The skin is highly resistant to arrows, machete blows and the teeth of larger animals. As the skin is loose it allows the Honey Badger to twist around and defend itself against attack. Their ferocity is so great they have been able to scare off lions and hyenas. As an added defence, the Honey Badger is known to secrete a pungent odour from its anal gland when threatened.
Honey Badgers are omnivorous, hunting mostly at night. They eat rodents, frogs, turtles, lizards, berries, roots, snakes and as their name suggests, honey gathered from bee hives. It’s a popular misconception that Honey Badgers rely on Honeyguide birds to help them locate hives. This has been recorded in the BBC documentary, Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem where Honeyguide calls were mimicked in badger territory and none were sighted.
Honey Badgers are resilient to toxins. They are able to shrug off bee stings and survive being bitten by venomous snakes like king cobras. Honey Badgers are known to eat all parts of their prey, including hair, flesh, bone and feathers.
The species is highly intelligent, showing a proficiency for using tools to gather food and adapt to an environment. This can be seen in Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem with a captured badger named Stoffell escaping from his enclosure using rocks and branches. He is even capable of opening the gate by standing on the back of a female and sliding off the lock.
Another misconception is Honey Badgers defending themselves by ripping off the scrotum of other animals so they bleed to death. This behaviour was first reported in 1947 by a circumstantial account of a badger reportedly castrating a Buffalo. African tribes have also reported on similar incidents but there is no direct evidence to support these claims.
Despite their many defences the species is not invincible. There has been cases of badgers dying from being mauled to death by lions and multiple bee stings. Because of their ferocious reputation, Honey Badgers are regarded as a nuisance to beekeepers and farmers. The species is listed as Near Threatened in the most recent South African Red Data List, and killing is still going on. In the Western Cape South Africa half of 82 commercial beekeepers admitted to killing Honey Badgers despite their protected status.
Honey Badgers may not have the greatest relationship with humans, but their tenacity, bravery and adaptability should be admired. The reputation of most fearless animal in the world is well earned and they remain one of nature’s most hardy creatures. In the end, the Honey Badger takes what it wants.
For more information on how you can help the species be sure to check out