Our two young honey badgers, Rika and her mate Julius have now reached the age where they are sexually mature and although we monitor them regularly they cannot be observed 24 hours a day. This means that it is difficult to know when and if they have mated as they are most likely to this during the night and when people are not around. The gestation period of a honey badger is 1.5 to 2 months and it is incredibly difficult to tell when a female is pregnant.
Honey badgers are undeniably intelligent creatures with very strong instincts; their mothering instinct being among the greatest.
Rika has found her way into our hearts and thoughts this week after an upsetting event:
One day last week in the early hours of the morning, staff, where alarmed by the sounds of aggressive fighting between the pair and quickly, ran to their enclosure to see what the commotion was all about! Honey badger couples often have their marital tiffs but this was very unusual, so we quickly separated the pair in fear that one of them may become injured. Upon the separation it became clear that Rika had become extremely possessive over a metal chain (that is part of the jungle gym in the enclosure) holding it tight and wrapping it around herself, cradling it. Due to her bizarre behavior we suspect that she may have given birth and her mate attacked the baby and sadly killed it. In the wild honey badgers are primarily solitary, occasionally bachelor groups can be found or mothers with their babies (babies stay with mum until they are about 1 and a half to 2 years old) but males and females would only be together during mating, this means that Rika giving birth with her mate in the same enclosure created an unnatural environment.
Over the next few days we tried numerous times to introduce them back together with toys, food and other distractions to help the reunion go smoother, but to no avail, Rika would viciously attack Julius whenever he was in sight. For Julius’ safety, we decided to keep them separate.
Her new-found obsession with the chain is likely caused by the loss of her baby but the lasting presence of her strong motherly drive to nurture. Heart-breaking to watch her moan and feel the loss so deeply in ways many other animals do not. Rika was holding the chain in a maternal manner, often trying to take it down into her burrows in order to keep it safe. We decided to give her a small stuffed animal in hope that this would resemble her lost offspring so that she would carry this down into her burrow where she can keep herself warm during these unusually cold winter nights, but sadly this didn’t work, she still clung to the chain. Next, we tried to offer her a loose piece of chain, again in hope that she would retreat to comfort underground but still no luck.
We have been keeping a very close eye on her and are giving her the time she needs in order to get over the ordeal. It has been just over a week now and slowly Rika is starting to separate herself from the chain more and more and we often find her underground, which is an encouraging sign that she is hopefully starting to move on from the traumatic experience. She is being spoilt with good food and some peace and quiet as we have limited the number of people passing her enclosure as this was making her very stressed. Julius is also suffering the effects of not being with his love. Fingers crossed it won’t be too long until the happy cheeky Rika we all know and love is back in full force and can be reunited with her partner in crime to cause some more chaos in true honey badger style!