African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

Collaborative paper out now: do honeyguides and honey badgers cooperate?

Jun 29, 2023

Honey badger raiding a beehive

Out today in the Journal of Zoology: our new collaborative paper on the potential cooperation between honey badgers and honeyguides. Such a partnership may have implications for the origins of our own species’ cooperation with honeyguides and for the ecology and conservation of both honey badgers and honeyguides.

We reviewed the evidence that honey badgers and honeyguides cooperate to access bees’ nests, drawing from the published literature, from our own observations whilst studying both species, and by conducting 394 interviews with honey-hunters in 11 communities across nine African countries.

We find that the scientific evidence relies on incomplete and second-hand accounts and does not convincingly indicate that the two species cooperate. The majority of honey-hunters we interviewed were similarly doubtful about the interaction, but many interviewees in the Hadzabe, Maasai, and mixed culture communities in Tanzania reported having seen honey badgers and honeyguides interact, and think that they do cooperate.

Overall, the evidence we have gathered suggests that badgers and honeyguides likely cooperate in a restricted part of Africa, but substantial uncertainty remains and the reports are as-yet unconfirmed. We provide tips for studies aiming to clarify this fascinating interspecies interaction.

This paper was a result of a great and fun collaboration between researchers from nine African countries who study honeyguides, badgers, and honey-hunter cultures. You can find a Kiswahili translation of the abstract here.


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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