Social Behaviour

Honey badgers are solitary carnivores with males and females in the Kalahari only meeting up to mate before going their separate ways again. Honey badgers do not form pairs and males play no role in rearing young. They do not have a fixed den (unless they have a very young cub) but constantly move through their home ranges, often sleeping in a different hole each night, or day depending on the season. In areas where badgers are not disturbed by man, they will forage during the day, particularly during cool conditions.

In the Kalahari they are nocturnal during summer and diurnal during the cold winters. Kalahari badgers often dig their own refuge holes but also adapted holes made by aardvark, springhare, porcupine and mongoose for their own uses. In the lower Zambezi Valley, Zimbabwe and Niassa Reserve, Mozambique honey badgers were always seen to use existing holes. In the Kalahari male badgers had extremely large home ranges relative to their size, roaming over areas in excess of 500 square kilometers and this large area might encompass twelve or more females and overlaps extensively with other males. Similarly large home ranges were documented in miombo woodland in Niassa Reserve, Mozambique. Behavioral observations from both the Zambezi Valley and the Kalahari suggest that a dominance hierarchy exists between male badgers and since many males can frequent the same area, it is not uncommon to see groups of males moving together, visiting latrines and searching for females.

Dominant males patrol their home ranges on a regular basis, constantly visiting and scent marking at latrines, which are typically small bare areas usually situated at a prominent landmarks. This olfactory "notice board" is their primary method of communication and from visiting these latrines males are able to determine which other males are in the area as well as find receptive females.

In contrast, females have smaller home ranges of between 100 to 150 square kilometers and on no occasion were two females seen together in the Kalahari study. While there is some overlap between neighboring female home ranges, they avoid each other temporally by frequently leaving their scent in foraging holes through token urination to advertise their presence. Observations in the Kalahari suggest that females only scent mark at latrines when they are in oestrus. When male badgers find a female's scent at a latrine they will follow her spoor by smell and try to find her. Female honey badgers are thought to be induced ovulators and once they are in oestrus require frequent copulations over an extended period to ensure fertilization. While males do not defend their large home ranges and are therefore not territorial, they will guard a particular female for the short time she is in oestrus by sequestering her in a burrow and physically prevent her from leaving for up to three days while mating takes place. Dominant males chase younger subordinate males away from the mating burrow and while overt aggression is rare, ritualized interactions involving dominant and submissive postures are common. In the image at the top of this page, the dominant individual is standing tall, tail erect and will be vocalizing with a low rumble, growl. The submissive male has his head low, his tail down and he will be vocalizing with a "jaw-smacking" sound also used by females when with males. Paternity analysis has revealed that more than 50% of the cubs in an area are fathered by the dominant male however sneak matings by younger and/or subordinate males also results in cubs.