African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

Dr Dominic Cram

Dominic Cram


My research investigates cooperation in the natural world, with an emphasis on how cooperating impacts health and ageing. I have worked on several wild bird and mammal species and study a range of markers of animal health, including oxidative damage, antioxidant protection, and telomere length analysis. My PhD research with white-browed sparrow weavers demonstrated that the physiological costs of rearing young fall heaviest on those that breed most, but that these costs can be mitigated by cooperative sharing of workloads. In my first post-doctoral position, I showed that social dominance in cooperative groups of Kalahari meerkats is not associated with specialised slow ageing trajectories, and that sibling rivalries can accelerate ageing even in new-born pups.

Research focus

My current focus is on the honeyguide’s contribution to the mutualistic foraging partnership with humans. After a successful harvest, the grateful honey-hunter typically leaves a piece of beeswax to reward the bird that guided them to the bees. However, our observations indicate that other honeyguides often eat this wax. If honeyguides can steal wax without guiding, how is the mutualism maintained? Which individual honeyguides cooperate with human honey-hunters, and which instead try to ‘scrounge’ a free meal? Are some honeyguides better guides than others? Do honeyguides that cooperate have access to more beeswax?

To address these questions, I have established a ringed population of honeyguides which allows us to collect individual-based data on decisions to guide or scrounge, guiding outcomes, and wax consumption. I am combining observational and experimental field data with laboratory analyses including stable isotope diet reconstruction and telomere length analysis.

Selected recent publications:

(Please see Google Scholar for a full publication list)


Laltaika honoured as a Top 100 Young African Conservation Leader

Wonderful news: Eliupendo Alaitetei Laltaika has been selected for the inaugural Top 100 Young African Conservation Leaders list announced today, celebrating those whose work “promises to leave a lasting impression in the African conservation landscape”. Congratulations, Laltaika – we’re proud to be your colleagues!

Laltaika’s citation reads, “A lion hunter as a young pastoralist turned conservationist, Eliupendo now protects the endangered rhino population of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as a Park Ranger. He has rescued 20 wild dogs from retaliation, killing and planted over 30,000 plants via conservation clubs. He is also researching the extraordinary cooperative relationship between honeyguide birds and human honey hunters. He founded the Ngorongoro Biodiversity Conservation Project.”

Please visit to meet 99 other inspiring young conservation leaders from throughout the continent.

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Workshop on “Human-Wildlife Mutualisms”

Together with Natalie Uomini at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, we hosted a two-day online workshop on “Human-Wildlife Mutualisms”. We were joined by 40 colleagues from 14 countries to share experiences and findings, and improve our understanding of what is known about these unique partnerships. We were delighted to meet colleagues with shared interests including anthropologists, historians, conservation practitioners, and honey-hunters, as well as fellow biologists such as our colleagues in Brazil who study the fascinating cooperative partnership between fishers and bottlenose dolphins. David, Dom, Jessica, Laltaika and Claire all presented talks on our honeyguide research in Mozambique and Tanzania, as did our close collaborators Brian Wood and Anne Kandler. Several additional honey-hunter colleagues and a fisher from Brazil participated via subtitled videos.

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David returns to Niassa

David Lloyd-Jones was reunited with our main study population of honeyguides, and colleagues in the field at the Mariri Environmental Centre in the Niassa Special Reserve, when a brief visit to Mozambique became possible. After a three-day motorbike ride from his home base in Tanzania, David met with our honey-hunter colleagues and repaired their equipment, and checked in our study area which was looking lush and green in the early rainy season. This is a time of year when food supplies are low in the village, and many of our honey-hunter colleagues are busy tending to their crops whilst only going on the occasional honey-hunt.

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