African Honeyguides

Research on a remarkable
human-animal relationship

Rion Cuthill

Rion Cuthill

Biography

I am a naturalist and ornithological research assistant based at the FitzPatrick Institute for African Ornithology, University of Cape Town. From a very young age, I have always enjoyed cataloguing the natural world around me. Birdwatching went hand in hand, but I have since broadened my fascination to include everything from moss to birds to fish. When I am not busy with research work, you can find me hiking in the Cape Fold Mountains, searching for rare plants, or identifying observations on iNaturalist.

After completing a BSc undergrad in Biology and Applied Statistics at the University of Cape Town, I joined the African Honeyguides team in 2021 as a BSc Honours student. For my Honours project I investigated the basic effects of honey-hunting on wildfire in Niassa Special Reserve in northern Mozambique. I used spatial data collected by honey-hunters as well as fire satellite imagery to quantify the impact honey-hunting, and by extension the human-honeyguide mutualism, has on the timing and frequency of wildfires.

 

Research focus

My current focus is on expanding the findings of my Honours project and furthering our understanding of how honey-hunting impacts the surrounding ecosystem through fire. Specifically, I am using several years’ worth of data from our study region to explore how wildfires linked to honey-hunting influence subsequent fire regimes; to robustly identify the contribution of the human-honeyguide mutualism to wildfire frequency and timing; and to then model these effects over the greater Niassa Special Reserve. Fire has played a crucial role in shaping human history and by untangling this specific fire-mediated relationship between humans and honeyguides, I hope to add a new perspective to the life histories of both species.

 

Peer-reviewed publications

 

  • Cram, D.L., van der Wal, J.E.M., Uomini, N.T., Cantor, M., Afan, A.I., Attwood, M.C., Amphaeris, J., Balasani, F., Blair, C.J., Bronstein, J.L., Buanachique, I.O., Cuthill, R.R.T., Das, J., Daura-Jorge, F.G., Deb, A., Dixit, T., Dlamini, G.S., Dounias, E., Gedi, I.I., Gruber, M., Hoffman, L.S., Holzlehner, T., Isack, H.A., Laltaika, A.E., Lloyd-Jones, D.J., Lund, J., Machado, A.M.S., Mahadevan, L., Moreno, I.B., Nwaogu, C.J., Pereira, V.L., Pierotti, R., Rucunua, S.A., dos Santos, W.F., Serpa, N., Smith, B.D., Sridhar, H., Tolkova, I., Tun, T., Valle-Pereira, J.V.S., Wood, B.M., Wrangham, R.W. & Spottiswoode, C.N. 2022 The ecology and evolution of human-wildlife cooperationPeople and Nature DOI: 10.1002/pan3.10369 Read abstract in English, Portuguese and Kiswahili here

     

  • van der Wal, J.E.M., Spottiswoode, C.N., Uomini, N.T., Cantor, M., Daura-Jorge, F.G., Afan, A.I., Attwood, M.C., Amphaeris, J., Balasani, F., Begg, C.M., Blair, C.J., Bronstein, J.L., Buanachique, I.O., Cuthill, R.R.T., Das, J., Deb, A., Dixit, T., Dlamini, G.S., Dounias, E., Gedi, I.I., Gruber, M., Hoffman, L.S., Holzlehner, T., Isack, H.A., Laltaika, A.E., Lloyd-Jones, D.J., Lund, J., Machado, A.M.S., Mahadevan, L., Moreno, I.B., Nwaogu, C.J., Pereira, V.L., Pierotti, R., Rucunua, S.A., dos Santos, W.F., Serpa, N., Smith, B.D., Tolkova, I., Tun, T., Valle-Pereira, J.V.S., Wood, B.M., Wrangham, R.W. & Cram, D.L. 2022 Safeguarding human-wildlife cooperation. Conservation Letters e12886 Read abstract in English,  Portuguese and Kiswahili here

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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