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Surly Honey Badger Don’t Care What You Think, Stupid

Though honey badgers max out at around 19 pounds, they can attack anything moving if they feel bothered. Photographer: Michal Cizek/AFP via Getty Images
Though honey badgers max out at around 19 pounds, they can attack anything moving if they feel bothered. Photographer: Michal Cizek/AFP via Getty Images

Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Somewhere in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Brian Jones and Stoffel continue their battle for supremacy.

Jones is an optimistic wildlife conservationist at an animal rehabilitation center. Stoffel is a surly honey badger.

They square off at regular intervals in “Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem,” airing Feb. 19, on PBS’s Nature program at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings). Jones builds a cage; Stoffel escapes.

It’s yet another deserved tribute to a toothy creature that looks like the spawn of a skunk and a sloth with the charm of a komodo.

Honey badgers -- who knew? -- have a huge online following.

As of today, “The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger,” with narration by a prissily high-minded human named Randall, had nearly 66 million views on YouTube. (“Eating larva? How disgusting is that!") A poisonous snake? Yum! (They sleep off the poison).

Though honey badgers max out at around 19 pounds, they can attack anything moving if they feel bothered.

Over at the animal rehab center, giraffes, rhinos and lions gambol peacefully until Stoffel scurries into view.

‘‘Can’t help but love him, he’s so brave,” says Jones, who watched him lock jaws on a rhino’s belly and bite a lion.

Second Chance

Beekeepers often shoot them because they destroy costly hives to get at their favorite food, ignoring angry swarms. Honey badger just don’t care. One badger survived 300 stings. Stoffel got a second chance when Jones rescued him from a trap some 20 years ago and eventually procured him badgeress Hammy in the hopes of calming him down.

Now Stoffel has an assistant. We see him clawing open the bottom lock on a chain link fence, while she scurries up to undo the top bolt. Mission achieved, he holds the door open for his bride and off they go.

Honey badgers have amazing problem-solving skills. After Jones confines him in what looks like a deep, sunken pen with a single tree in the middle, he spends the night breaking off its branches to build a ladder.

At a safari lodge in another part of Kruger National Park, zoologist Low de Vries tracks them prowling at the dump. Aspects of the honey badger -- by the way, the creature is really of the weasel family -- have interested de Vries since childhood. For instance, why do pups hang around with their mother for two years?

Writhing Zoologist

The nighttime footage includes eerie scenes of frustrated hyenas and porcupines giving up their fair share of leftovers. To hurry them away from the dump, the badgers eject fluid from their anal pouches that smells so awful de Vries begins writhing in his car.

He never does enter the hidden world of badger parenting.

This “Nature” show features quite a few amusingly crestfallen humans. Beekeeper Guy Stubbs, for instance, keeps bringing his new badger-proof hives to the rehab center, where testers Stoffel and Hammy invariably find a way to embarrass him in front of the cameras.

But Stoffel’s escapes seem thwarted as the program ends. Jones has finally encased his pen with an electric fence. As he bends over the wall to greet his pet, Stoffel stands on his hind legs, growling with such anger you would not be surprised if smoke came out of his ears and his head swiveled 360 degrees.

“Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem” will be available for on-line streaming at pbs.org/nature after Wednesday’s broadcast.

(Manuela Hoelterhoff is an executive editor at Bloomberg News. Any opinions are her own.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Brecher at jbrecher4@bloomberg.net

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