A male greater honeyguide in the Niassa National Reserve, Mozambique, in 2013. (Claire Spottiswoode/Associated Press)

How nice to find relief from the dark halls of the GOP shindig with the July 22 news article “Bird understands when African tribe calls for help,” about the greater honeyguide’s mutual cooperation with humans in leading them to beehives in return for the wax and larvae. Politicians could learn a bit of give-and-take from this remarkable arrangement. 

When I used to visit the miombo woodlands around Tabora in Tanzania in the 1970s, I used to meet honey collectors. They, too, had a call like the Yao tribe in Mozambique to summon the honeyguide, although they rarely needed it because the honeyguides usually joined them quickly. A wise old man once told me that, when honey collectors break open the beehive and take the honey, they must leave plenty of the wax broken open and accessible. If they didn’t play by the rules — for example, by taking away the wax (which has monetary value) — then the next time, the bird would lead them to a dangerous animal, such as a leopard. He assured me there were such penalties for breaking the compact!

For the early colonial big-game hunters, honeyguides were a problem. A bird would come to a hunter hoping to guide the hunter to a hive. But the hunted elephants would hear the bird’s distinctive call, know humans were approaching and move off. One hunter short on patience carried a small, quiet, bird rifle to shoot persistent honeyguides that messed up his hunting stalks.

Ridley Nelson, Great Falls