African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

David Lloyd-Jones

David Lloyd-Jones


I am a behavioural ecologist, ornithologist and PhD student at the FitzPatrick Institute for African Ornithology, University of Cape Town. I grew up in southern Tanzania and this biodiverse setting nurtured my passion for natural history and field research. I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. During this period, I became fascinated in avian brood parasitism, co-evolutionary interactions and avian communication and I have conducted research exploring these topics. After returning to East Africa I worked on biodiversity surveys and aerial surveys of large mammals, while also keeping bees and experimenting with beekeeping techniques.

In 2016 I first went to northern Mozambique’s stunning Niassa Special Reserve for work on an aerial survey. In 2017 I returned to working there – in collaboration with Prof. Claire Spottiswoode – to study the remarkable mutualism between human honey-hunters and the greater honeyguides (Indicator indicator). I have been involved in honeyguide research since then and continue to be inspired by complex species interactions and the challenge of studying them using field experiments. It continues to be a profound privilege spending extended time with people who coexist alongside wildlife inside Niassa’s vast wilderness.


Research focus

My current focus is on the ecology and economics of human-honeyguide cooperation and in particular, gaining a better understanding of the foraging behaviour and decision-making of both honeyguides and human honey-hunters at the population level. More specifically, I am looking at how the mutualism shifts the costs and benefits of honey-hunting, using spatial data for humans and measuring the rewards (wax, honey) for both parties. I am also testing whether honeyguides learn to recognise cheating honey-hunters, and whether they punish them?

With the help of a honey-hunting community I am collecting a wide range of data on natural honey-hunting journeys and their payoffs. I am trying to discover whether humans learn to recognise unskilled honeyguides, and whether they avoid them? I am also investigating questions relating to honeyguide-human communication, and the ecosystem effects of honey-hunting at a landscape level. Our multi-year dataset enables us to ask how honeyguides change human movement and foraging patterns.


Peer-reviewed publications


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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