Early one morning in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve, I came across this male honey badger. It was October and the very end of the dry season, which meant that the soil was baked hard and dry, but this didn’t seem to bother the badger.
He walked with purpose, swinging his head this way and that, smelling and sniffing as he went. Suddenly, he stopped and pushed his nose into a hole in the sand, keeping it there for a number of seconds. Then he exploded into action with an arcing pounce and ripped into the ground with his fearsome front claws.
He spun his rear end around in the air, digging furiously while hurling chunks of dirt and sand away from the hole.
The excavation became so deep that the badger was forced to lie with his belly flat on the ground and his back bowed, so that he could push his front legs deeper into the hole.
Suddenly, he pulled out a scorpion, bit off its tail and crunched away on the rest with apparent satisfaction. The scorpion was probably a burrowing scorpion, of the genus Opistophthalmus, which is capable of delivering a very painful sting. Its hole in the ground is spiral-shaped, explaining why the badger was twisting and turning so much in his pursuit. As soon as the scorpion had disappeared down the badger’s throat, he was off again after another. In two hours over two days, I watched him excavate about 20 scorpions.
He showed little fear of humans and was the most confiding honey badger I have ever photographed. In most parts of their southern African range, sightings of honey badgers are quite rare, but on just one morning drive in the Central Kalahari I counted 14 of them. How many scorpions there must be to feed them all!
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