It's no secret that honey badgers are ferocious. From lions to venomous snakes, all kinds of animals have found themselves on the receiving end of some aggressive "badgering". But it's not often that these stocky carnivores are caught turning their teeth on their own kind. 

Seeing even one honey badger on safari is a rare treat, so when Cecil Kagan came across this three-way badger brawl in South Africa's Kruger National Park recently, he couldn't believe his eyes. These nomadic carnivores usually stick to solitary lifestyles, so scuffles like this are rarely witnessed.

"It is hard to know for sure but I would say these are three males," explains Dr Colleen Begg, a conservation biologist who has spent several years studying the ecology and behaviour of these plucky creatures. Male badgers have large home ranges, but they are not known to aggressively defend their turf. Research from the Zambezi Valley and the Kalahari suggests that where home ranges of feisty bro badgers overlap, a dominance hierarchy is established. The noisy tussle that Kagan was lucky enough to capture on camera may show the males figuring out who's boss. 

"They do not seem to be really fighting but more trying to scent-mark on each other and dominate each other," says Begg. "[It's] ritualised behaviour to avoid serious injury." Badgers have incredibly thick, loose skin which allows them to avoid sustaining serious injuries when under attack. Some of the older males develop leathery callouses on their backs from repeated bites dished out by competing males. Begg and her research team labelled the old warriors "scarbacks".

Male badgers have been recorded ganging up in groups of up to five individuals when a female in the area goes into oestrus. The bachelor clans can sometimes be seen travelling together as they move between scent-marked latrines that function like "olfactory noticeboards" informing the males of any receptive lady badgers in the area.

"They might move around together for days," Begg explains. However, once a willing mate has been sniffed out, the badger in charge takes over. "The dominant male will get access to the female in the burrow and will mate with her for a couple of days. Younger, less dominant males mill around outside." If the alpha badger lets down his guard though, the less dominant males sometimes sneak into the burrow for a "quickie". Genetic studies indicate that these sly badgers do sometimes succeed in impregnating females.

While we can't be entirely certain what this tri-badger brawl is all about, one thing's for sure: honey badgers can throw down.