African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

Amana Kilawi Othman

Amana Kilawi Othman


I grew up in Songea, a region in the south of Tanzania, adjacent to Selous Game Reserve. The biodiversity-rich ecosystem surrounding the area drives my passion for wildlife and biodiversity conservation. I hold an undergraduate degree from the College of African Wildlife Management (Mweka) in Tanzania, during which I researched the influence of water sources’ entry points on birds’ species diversity at Lake Manyara National Park. I have also worked as a project coordinator for the Ngorongoro Biodiversity Conservation Project. Following my involvement in Eliupendo Laltaika’s fieldwork on honey-hunting cultures in northern Tanzania in 2020 as a field assistant, I am dedicated to research human-honeyguide mutualism further, this time in southern Tanzania. In 2022, I joined the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town as an MSc student in Conservation Biology.


Research focus

My research focus is on understanding the ‘cold spots’ in the mosaic of human-honeyguide mutualism in Tanzania. Specifically, I want to better understand honeyguide behaviour in places where there are honeyguides but no people (such as Ruaha National Park and Rungwa Game Reserve), and where there are both honeyguides and people, but people are not cooperating with the birds. I plan to conduct interviews in several communities in southern Tanzania that honey-hunt without the help of honeyguides, to understand why they don’t cooperate with honeyguides. Moreover, I will be investigating honey production in these communities, both from wild honey-hunting and beekeeping activities. 


In memory of our colleague Ricardo Guta

Ricardo Guta, our dear colleague and friend in our research team, tragically died on 1 December 2022 following a swimming accident in the Cape mountains. All our thoughts are with his wife, Lailat, and their children Adrielle and Piotr. Ricardo’s life was honoured by his colleagues in a memorial at the University of Cape Town on 9 December 2022. He will soon be laid to rest by his family in his home city of Beira, Mozambique.

Ricardo’s warm and generous personality and passion for natural history touched everyone he met. He was much loved and respected at Gorongosa National Park where he worked as an entomologist, at the University of Cape Town where he had just completed his MSc studies, and at the Niassa Special Reserve where we recently carried out a wonderful field trip together. Ricardo had just begun his PhD in our research team, studying the influence of honeyguide-human mutualism on honeybee ecology. We are heartbroken to have lost a wonderful scientist, conservationist and human being, and we miss him deeply.

Ricardo’s legacy will live on in our team as we remember his joy and optimism, and his remarkable capacity to bring people together.

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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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