Imagine this...i have been dreaming about this almost mythical creature..the Ratel..since almost 20 years...and then one totally un-expected moment, it appears in front of us in Pench!! (this picture of an African Ratel, is of course, from the internet!)
The Ratel or the Honey Badger ('Mellivora capensis'), is such a mysterious creature that although it is around in many habitats in India..it is rarely seen! I know of only a few who have seen this amazing creature!
It is so unique that biologists have been long confused even on which family they can place it in..and finally decided to allot it to a separate Genus..'Mellivora' ! Which means a 'honey-eater'... It's diet is varied though...chiefly carnivorous..a study in the Kalahari which analyzed 910 scats, came to a conclusion that they fed on 61 different kinds of prey species! Like larvae of Termites and Wasps, Beetles,Geckos, Scorpions,Rodents,Snakes and Birds. It has a reputation of being very aggressive and takes on much larger adversaries...one of my Ranger friends from South Africa was telling me how he saw a Ratel being attacked by a pride of Lions and it fought on for about 45 mins before being subdued..and in the process, even bite off the tongue of a Lioness!
Honey Badgers are known to roam large areas or 'Home Ranges', as big as 500 sq km for males and 150 sq km for females. They are generally solitary or in pairs and sometimes in 'family groups'. They have an interesting feeding or commensual association with the Honey Guide bird in Africa and even some mammals like Jackals.
Coming to my sighting..we were cruising along in Pench NP..me, Karun, Shree and Rajnish..all my Naturalist mates. We were chatting non-stop and suddenly a running animal caught my attention..it looked like a bounding Langur to me..but in a second realised what it was and shouted, 'Ratel,Ratel, Karun Ratel!!' My shouting was so excited that the Ratel changed course and ran away from us!! The sighting lasted barely a minute..but we could see that it had a jet black body with a bright ashy-grey back, which was so rich in contrast! It was also much larger in size than what i expected! Thankfully, Karun recovered just in time to take a few record shots! He too was also obsessed about the Ratel for 5 years now..i am so glad he was with me!
The Ratel seen in Pench on 1st of June 2011 !!
It took a long time for it to sink in...that i have finally seen this secretive and intriguing creature after so many years of dreaming about it! I remember the number of times i asked Guides and drivers in Central India if they have seen it..and a rare one who has actually seen one used to get intensively 'interrogated' by me!
I rank this sighting in the same league of my sighting of the Snow Leopard! Indeed i am blessed to see this amazing animal! Ratel...i have seen You at last!! Thank you for showing up!! I know that you actually exist now!