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.

News

Cultural Evolution Society grant awarded to Jessica van der Wal

Jessica van der Wal was awarded a grant from the Cultural Evolution Society Transformation Fund for her project entitled ‘Cultural mosaic of human-honeyguide mutualism’. This will allow her to grow the pan-African collaborative to document Africa’s remaining diversity of endangered honey-hunting cultures with honeyguide birds. Thank you to the CES for this wonderful support! The growing Honey-hunting Research Network currently exists of researchers in Cameroon (Dr Mazi Sandi and Jacob Wandala), Ghana (Wiro-Bless Kamboe), Eswatini (Sanele Nhlabatsi and Dr Celiwe Ngcamphalala), Malawi (George Malembo M’manga), Nigeria (Anap Ishaku Afan), and Tanzania (Eliupendo Alaitetei Laltaika, Amana Kilawi). Other partners in the project are anthropologist Dr Brian Wood and database manager Farisayi Dakwa.

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Out now: two review papers on human-wildlife cooperation

We have just published two review papers on human-wildlife cooperation, in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team of 41 scientists, conservationists, and practitioners of human-wildlife cooperation from around the world. These papers were products from discussions started at the Human-Wildlife Mutualism Workshop we organised in January 2021. In “Safeguarding human-wildlife cooperation”, published in Conservation Letters, we review the benefits, threats and unique safeguarding considerations of human-wildlife cooperation. In  “The Ecology and Evolution of Human-Wildlife Cooperation”, published in People and Nature, we provide an overview about what is known about the ecology and evolution of cooperation between humans and wild animals. Abstracts of both papers are available in English, Portuguese, and Kiswahili here. Please also see media coverage from Mongabay, The Conversation, and an interview with Jessica van der Wal in Science.

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Laltaika interviewed by Mongabay

The conservation news website Mongabay interviewed Eliupendo Laltaika, who recently completed his MSc as part of our team, about his research on the ecology and conservation of human-honeyguide mutualism. Laltaika is about to rejoin our team to start his PhD, extending his research on human-honeyguide mutualism in Tanzania.

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