African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

New collaborative paper on honeyguide-human cooperation in Kenya

Jan 3, 2022

Awer snail whistle

In a new paper in Frontiers in Conservation Science, we report on the honey-hunting culture with greater honeyguides of the marginalised Awer people in Kenya, historically a hunter-gatherer culture who today practise a mixed economy including significant amounts of foraging for wild foods. Isa Gedi from the Northern Rangelands Trust interviewed six Awer honey-hunters across four villages to document their cultural practices. Awer honey-hunters depend on wild honey as a source of income, and readily seek the cooperation of honeyguides. Interviewees go out honey-hunting once a week after the big rains. To attract honeyguides, interviewees consistently whistled “fuuj fuuj fuuj” or whistled on the shell of a Giant African Land Snail (which is only ever done in this context). Honeyguides are not actively rewarded with wax, as it is believed that once a bird is fed it will not cooperate again for some time. Honey-hunting practices are declining in Lamu County, which interviewees attributed to drought and a lack of interest by the youth. These findings expand our understanding of how human-honeyguide mutualism persists across a range of human cultural variation. We thank the interviewees for sharing their honey-hunting culture with us, and acknowledge the support of the Awer Community Conservancy which partners with Northern Rangelands Trust in matters of community-based conservation.


Honey-hunting Research Network workshop

The Honey-hunting Research Network (coordinated by Jessica van der Wal) met in Cape Town for a very enjoyable week of analysing and comparing interview data from honey-hunting cultures across Africa, painting a picture of the human cultural variation relevant to honeyguides, and its uncertain future on a rapidly changing continent. Joining in person were Wiro-Bless Kamboe, Rochelle Mphetlhe, George M’manga, Sanele Nhlabatsi, Daniella Mhangwana, Celiwe Ngcamphalala, Claire Spottiswoode and Jessica van der Wal. Thank you to the Cultural Evolution Society Transformation Fund for funding our get-together!

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New paper on human-honeyguide cooperation and communication

A new study from the Honeyguide Research Project shows that Greater Honeyguides learn the distinct calls that honey-hunters in different parts of Africa use to communicate with them, facilitating cooperation between species. Human honey-hunters signal to honeyguides using specialised calls that vary culturally across Africa. The new study shows using field experiments in Mozambique and Tanzania that honeyguides prefer the specialised calls of the local human culture they interact with, compared to those of a foreign culture. This implies that honeyguides can adjust to human cultural diversity, increasing the benefits of cooperation for both people and birds.

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