Thanks in no small part to viral videos, the ferocity and fearlessness of honey badgers are legendary. The stocky creatures will readily face up to lions, sink their teeth into venomous snakes, or even try their luck at dining on porcupines. It’s rare to see a badger on the losing end of a predatory brawl. But for all their brawn and boldness, badgers do sometimes succumb to larger predators. While on safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park earlier this year, photographer Sheila Grobbelaar came across a Nile crocodile with a fresh badger carcass clasped firmly in its jaws.
Grobbelaar first spotted the croc splashing in the shallows and initially suspected that the reptile had nabbed a chunky catfish for lunch. Typically, crocodiles satisfy their hunger with fish, birds, frogs, and anything else they can easily find in the water; however, larger prey items are certainly up for grabs, especially if they wander close to the water’s edge where they become fairly easy targets. As the croc began to surface, it became clear to Grobbelaar just what was on the menu: “The crocodile started thrashing a honey badger around – to my horror. I just love badgers, so it wasn’t a pleasant sighting,” she told Wild Card Magazine.
Grobbelaar spent an hour watching and photographing the croc as it hurled the badger from side to side in an apparent attempt to break the prey into smaller, more digestible pieces. When she returned to the scene about half an hour later, the crocodile had exited the water and was stretched across a river bank with the badger clutched between its jaws.
While its possible that the croc scavenged its badger meal, the carcass does appear to be fresh, and its not implausible for a croc to snatch any animal (even a vicious badger) that strays within striking distance. But a badger, even an expired one, can be a tough meal to swallow. “I suspect the reason why the crocodile spent so much time with the dead badger in its mouth was due to the difficulty of tearing up the carcass into sufficiently small pieces to swallow,” crocodile expert Dr Xander Combrink explained to Wild Card Magazine. Unlike many mammals, crocodiles are not able to chew their food and must instead tear or break off pieces of meat before swallowing them whole and letting their acidic stomach juices do the rest.
“Honey badgers are known for their incredibly tough skin. The weight of the recently killed badger was seemingly too light (10-12kg) to provide sufficient resistance for the crocodile to tear through the tough skin while thrashing the badger from side to side in the water,” says Combrink. When dealing with larger prey, crocodiles sometimes employ a technique called the “deathroll” which involves gripping a part of their prey and spinning underwater in an attempt to dislodge a smaller chunk of meat. A badger, however, is too lightweight for the technique to be effective.
“If a second crocodile was present, it would have been easier for them to tear open the dead badger through cooperative action. The pictured crocodile probably left the water in an attempt to tear the carcass on land,” Combrink added.