Late in May of this year, a honey badger was illegally trapped in the West Coast National Park. Due to the modifications of the trap and the extent of the infection, a more severe amputation was performed than we had hoped for. This compromised her eligibility for release back into the West Coast National Park. She has now be named Hope as she is going to give new hope for many honey badgers that get euthanized due to illegal hunting methods.
This left the question; will she be able to adapt with an amputation (between the knee and hip joint) of the rear leg and if so, will she be able to have fully functional life? According to the protocols put forward by our authorative body and generally adopted by all rehabilitators nationwide, no compromised animals are released. If they cannot be used for education or a breeding program, they get euthanized. Honey badgers are not typically suitable for educational purposes and there are no breeding programs in place at present.
It was decided by all the relevant bodies involved to continue with the release of the honey badger and evaluate her in the wild in order to establish whether or not our protocols are in order based of scientific evidence and not just assumption. Being a near threatened species, we feel more should be done now to ensure the long term survival of the species before they reach a critical status on the IUCN Red List. My investigation lead me to Dr. Colleen Begg, who completed her research (the only in-depth research done) on the honey badger in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where she had observed a 3 legged honey badger in the wild raising young. This is our baseline data that we will be using.
According to the wildlife rescue centre who performed the amputation, they stated, "Whilst undergoing medication following the amputation we have observed the badger eating and drinking. By the day after the op she was mobile so we decided to give her access to the outside area of the enclosure. Over the weekend she managed to dig several holes and one burrow deep enough for her to be completely out of view. It took me an hour and a half to dig her out of the burrow. My feelings are that she is a strong animal and will adapt well to the missing limb. One lesson badgers can teach us is strength and tenacity in the face of adversity, for this reason I would like to see her being released back to the wild."
Hope was released on the 1st of October 2012 and has not only exceeded our expectations but has adapted to life on three legs as if she had four! She has returned to her home range and met a mate. All indications are that they have been mating and we will find out with in the next two months whether or not it was successful.
We were also told that it is almost impossible to track a honey badger of foot, but we are now entering into our forth week of tracking her which surpasses all previous attempts.
However, the expenses are escalating and funds are desparately needed to continue with the project as the information we are gathering is going to make a real difference to our approach when rehabilitating wildlife. We need to ask more questions and not just accept the way things have always been done and this project is going to highlight that point.