The best place to see a honey badger is in Etosha, Namibia! When I was camping there, I had a memorable encounter with one of them. They are very interested in what you eat, so be be careful!
Etosha National Park, Namibia
I love Etosha – the shimmering mirages over the salt pans, herds of springbok daintily walking through the grass, herds of wildebeest on an endless horizon and an air of expectancy. You never know what you’re going to see or experience. Although I had not expected a close encounter with a honey badger!
I remember the first time I ever went to Etosha in 2001. I was blown away by the scenery. It was January and I’d managed to swap the winter blues of the UK for the sunny Namibian climate. I was in my element.
I packed my car with my camping gear and headed north. Back in those days the camps in Etosha were a little shabby and camping was often considered the better option. So I bought some firewood and the necessities for a braai (southern african BBQ) – tinfoil, potatoes, garlic, an onion, courgettes and steak.
I was really excited about spending some time in Etosha. I had been advised to stay at Halali which the Etosha’s central campsite. Apparently it would be quieter at the floodlit waterhole. Having bought a map of the reserve I meticulously marked a route for me to get to Halali by sunset.
I had a wonderful self-drive through the park that day. I saw a lion drinking from a waterhole, a pair of cheetahs and a host of elephants, along with what seemed like thousands of springbok glimmering in the distance.
Halali Campsite, Etosha
I was delighted to find hardly anyone around when I entered Halali Camp. I was looking forward to a peaceful night sleep and was delighted to discover that I was the only person camping. The other few guests I saw entering the camp were staying in the huts. At the time Halali campsite was a large expanse of dry baked earth, with a few trees for shade and a couple of ablution blocks. There was nobody around at all.
I was pretty content being by myself. I got the braai lit and left it to create coals as I set up my tent and sleeping arrangments. Once this was done I sat contentedly next to the fire. As I sipped my beer I waited for the embers to be just right for my juicy T-bone steak. My mouth was watering, it looked so good. Soon enough it was time to cook.
It was at this point that I realised I wasn’t the only living thing in the campsite. Someone else was also interested in my steak. Unbeknown to me I had been discovered by the resident honey badger.
Tenacious honey badger
The first time I saw a honey badger was in Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, where I saw a pair of these unassuming animals rip through the kitchen of some unsuspecting campers. The kitchen was an awning on the side of a camper van and these endearing badgers caused havoc. They tore open tins of food with their teeth and claws, emptied out the cooler boxes, upturned the table and even prised open a few bottles of beer.
I have to say that I was rather delighted in their choice of victim to wreak carnage on. These so called campers had brought a tv, a fridge (which hummed all night) and an enormous radio system into the quiet national park. These items were no longer of use, the honey badgers had made sure of that, and the African bush was returned to the noise of its own making. Especially after the departure of said campers.
Honey badger and my steak
Honey badgers are not that large but they are renowned for being ferocious and fearless, characteristics I do not possess. He snaked his way over to me and had a good look at my tent. There was nothing of interest there. The honey badger had a look in the nearby bin and was temporarily distracted with ends of courgettes and a little bit of onion. But not for long, the sizzling steak seemed to be of interest, or maybe it was me standing next to the steak?
I stepped gingerly away from the steak (at this point I was more concerned about my steak then the presence of a honey badger) although I still had a healthy wariness for this creature. I used my car as a shield, keeping the car between myself and the honey badger. He approached and poked his head around the side of the car and looked at me. I kept moving around the car and he kept following me. And I was acutely aware that my steak was on the braai. I made sure I could see my steak and the honey badger at all times.
There then ensued a comedy moment. We circled warily, keeping each other in our sights whilst circumnavigating the car three times. Each time I passed the braai I checked my steak was OK before moving on. In hindsight this was utterly ridiculous – who runs around the car with a honey badger chasing them? I could have got into the car, the honey badger could have crawled under the car or the honey badger could have taken my steak if he really wanted to…
I’m really pleased there is no CCTV in Halali campsite.
Needless to say the honey badger did eventually depart (he’d probably got bored with going round and round in circles), and I was left with a perfect evening under a starlit sky – with a story to recount and an excellent steak to devour.