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The greater honeyguide is unique: it is the only wild animal that has been proven to interpret human language. Brett Westwood tells the sweet story of a bird in the bush.

The greater honeyguide is unique: it is the only wild animal that has been proven to selectively interpret human language. Brett Westwood tells the sweet story of a bird that leads human honey hunters to wild bees' nests in order to share the rewards - perhaps one of the oldest cultural partnerships between humans and other animals on Earth. With biologist Claire Spottiswoode, anthropologist Brian Wood, and honey hunters, Lazaro Hamusikili in Zambia and Orlando Yassene in Mozambique, and the calls of the honeyguide. Producer: Tim Dee.

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Mon 24 Oct 2016 21:00

Dr Claire Spottiswoode

Dr Claire Spottiswoode
Dr Claire Spottiswoode is BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow and Hans Gadow Lecturer at the University of Cambridge and a Professor at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town where she studies the evolution, ecology and conservation of species interactions, and works mainly on African birds.

She has collaborated with the Niassa Carnivore Project in Mozambique’s Niassa National Reserve to study the remarkable mutualism between human honey-hunters and greater honeyguides that lead them to wild bees’ nests. She also studies co-evolutionary arms races between brood-parasitic birds such as the honeyguides, cuckoos and parasitic finches and the host species they exploit to bear the costs of raising their young.

For more information and other projects visit African Cuckoos.

Lazaro Hamusikili

Lazaro Hamusikili
Lazaro Hamusikili is a legendary bird man from Choma in southern Zambia. He has 40 years of knowledge of Zambian birds and their breeding ecology, especially brood parasites such as honeyguides and cuckoos, and is a champion nest-finder, honey-hunter, and preparator of museum skins.

Picture: Dr Claire Spottiswoode

Orlando Yassene

Orlando Yassene
Orlando Yassene is an expert honey-hunter from Mbamba village in the Niassa National Reserve in northern Mozambique. Orlando has followed honeyguides to bees’ nests since he was a teenager and has a deep knowledge of the Niassa environment. He currently helps with conservation monitoring for the Niassa Carnivore Project, and is the leader of the Mbamba village dance troupe.

Picture: Dr Claire Spottiswoode

Brian Wood

Brian Wood
Brian Wood is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Yale. Since 2004, he has been carrying out research with Hadza foragers of northern Tanzania. His research focuses on understanding how people solve basic social and economic problems that arise from life as a hunter-gatherer.

His work is grounded in the field of human behavioral ecology, addressing how evolutionary processes and environmental contexts influence human behavior. Topics include how people decide where and with whom to live, how they acquire foods, and how foods are shared.


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