In 1569, a Portuguese missionary working in what is now Mozambique noticed something strange: tiny birds flying in and out of the church to nibble at the beeswax altar candles. Though the was perplexed by the behavior, it would have made perfect sense to locals. The birds in question were honeyguides, a species known for their predilection for wax, and their cooperative relationship with human honey hunters.
Human-animal cooperation, especially when it comes to food gathering, isn’t all that rare. We’ve trained dogs to corner game, pigs to sniff out truffles, even cormorants to catch fish.
But in all of these cases, the animals are either domesticated or trained to do our bidding. Human collaboration with wild animals is rare. In one remarkable case, dolphins have been shown to work cooperatively with Brazilian mullet fishermen to catch fish, to the mutual benefit of man and beast. But honeyguides and their human partners take cooperation a step further.