Thursday, March 15, 2012
Honey Badger Cares
As someone who has always found honey badgers to be one of the animal kingdom’s most fascinating animals, normally I would be pleased to see them getting the media attention and fans that they deserve. However, the current trend I see regarding honey badgers seems to be doing more harm than good.
Perhaps starting when it was listed as one of the animals in a vile article titled “Six Animals That Don’t Give A F***”, and then hugely popularized by the slightly-less-vile YouTube video “The Crazy Nastya** Honey Badger”, the honey badger was presented to masses as an entertaining freak rather than in a wholesome and truly informative way.
Catch-phrases such as “Honey Badger Don’t Care”, “Honey Badger Don’t Give A S***", “What Would Honey Badger Do?” have grown popular. They are based off of the honey badger’s reputation for fearlessness and toughness, and while they caricature an interesting animal that is not defined by those attributes alone, such a caricature could still be amusing were not so many of the catch-phrases offensive.
Since becoming famous, the honey badger has starred in a pistachio commercial, been used as a motivational tool for NFL football players, had its name borrowed as a nickname for an LSU college football cornerback, and inspired an enormous amount of merchandise and numerous articles. The fact that so much of what the trend has inspired is obscene should dismay those who are fond of animals and nature.
The real honey badger, also known as a ratel, lives in much of Africa as well as southwestern Asia. A member of the mustelid family, some of the honey badger’s relatives include the otter, the skunk, the weasel, and not surprisingly, the wolverine. Most honey badgers are gray-to-white on their back and the top of their head and black on the lower part of their body, with a length of up to thirty inches and a weight of up to around thirty pounds. They have a short, sturdy build and long claws that are used as tools for digging and other purposes.
Despite being unimposing in size, the honey badger makes up for it in attitude. While it is often content with food such as honey, bee larvae, some plants, lizards, antelope, and various other small to medium-sized animals, it will sometimes go after more dangerous prey, including scorpions, pythons, and small crocodiles. It is famous for devouring venomous snakes, such as cobras, adders, and black mambas, and has been observed being bitten into unconsciousness while killing a venomous snake, then recovering hours later, at which point it wakes up and proceeds to eat the dead snake.
The honey badger is not invincible as some claim, but large predators generally avoid this ferocious creature, and often it can drive away attackers such as lions, or at least get them to keep their distance through a ferocious display until it can escape with dignity. Its tough skin is resistant to snake bites, bee stings, porcupine quills, and the teeth of other predators, and loose enough that they can wiggle around and fight back against an animal that has a mouthful of their skin.
Like other badgers, the honey badger is an excellent digger, pursuing prey that is underground and excavating burrows of up to nine feet long. They will also take up residence in old termite mounds, in the abandoned dens of other animals, and other places where an opportunity may present itself. They usually have only one or two young, which they are fiercely protective of.
The honey badger’s name comes from its love of honey, though it may be more interested in the bee larvae that comes with the honey. It has long been accepted as fact that the honeyguide bird leads the honey badger to beehives, where the honey badger breaks into the hive and then shares the spoils with the honeyguide bird, but this is now disputed by some scientists.
Presumably because of the honey badger’s fearsome reputation, in 2007 an urban legend claimed that UK troops in Iraq had unleashed a killer badger that was huge in size and which supposedly attacked people and slaughtered livestock. Scientists soon discovered that the creatures in question were really just normal honey badgers that were native to the area, which local rumors had distorted.
Now this cool creature has gone from an obscure mustelid that caught the interest of some animal lovers like myself to an internet and cultural phenomenon that is associated with a confused mix of ferocity, immaturity, and vulgarity. But does this bizarre infamy benefit either the culture or the honey badger itself?
While the mania over the honey badger has sometimes gone in a more positive direction, it has never come close to shaking the offensive roots of the fad. A few scientific articles tried to jump on the honey badger bandwagon, but none of the articles I have encountered had the guts to rebuke the obscenity of the fad and many perpetuated it.
One can hope that eventually the exploitation of the honey badger will fade away, leaving behind more awareness of the real honey badger, but whether this will happen remains to be seen. Empty catch-phrases rather than scientific facts could be forgiven as harmless fun, but what can be said in defense of the fact that honey badger products and searches are dominated by foul language rather than family-friendly products?
The legacy of the honey badger should not be of a “bada**” who “takes what he wants”, but one that better captures the lessons we can learn this fascinating creature. Rather than some heartless little ruffian, the honey badger can represent the ideal of mankind: courageous, hard-working, protective, inventive, and willing to partner with others. Even a caricatured “tough guy” would be fine if he were not smeared by the obscenity and immaturity of this fad.
Meanwhile, what legacy can those who created and all who perpetuate the dark side of this fad claim to have? That children and others who research articles and products relating to the honey badger will be exposed to the vulgarity that now surrounds an innocent creature? That many others who are not even interested in the honey badger will similarly be exposed to the vulgarity or dislike the honey badger because of it? As many people continue to cash in on and perpetuate this distorted image of the honey badger, they should ask themselves: Is any amount of money and dirty laughs worth such a legacy?
(c) 2012 Jonathan Garner