The Honey Hunters of Nepal

     In the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal men harvest Himalayan Cliff Bee (Apis Laboriosa) honey as they have for generations.  The Himalayan honey bee, the biggest in the world at up to 3 cm (1.2 inches) is specifically adapted to the harsh climate of the Himalayas.

The Himalayan Cliff Bee Apis Laboriosa

     It nests at altitudes between 2500 and 3000 meters (8200-9800 ft) and forages at altitudes up to 4100 meters (13500 ft).  They have a flight range of 5-14 kilometers (3-9 miles).  This bee builds nests under overhangs on the southwestern faces of vertical cliffs. They are found in Bhutan, India, China and Nepal.

Himalayan Cliff Bee

      The Himalayan Cliff bee migrates for seasonal blossoms and produces three different types of honey: Spring high altitude or red honey; Spring mid to low altitude honey; and Autumn honey.  The Red honey is the most praised because of it's intoxicating or relaxing effects.  It is not consumed locally but exported at five times the price of other honeys to Japan and China for traditional medicinal use.  In Korea some healers are using it to treat drug addiction.  The intoxicating effects come from grayanotoxin present in the nectar of white rhododendrons.

       The ownership and control of honey harvesting has always been in the control of local villages but in many areas because of increased foreign demand control has been turned over to non-traditional harvesters and exporters.  This, along with loss of habitat and the introduction of the European honey bee has caused a tremendous decrease in the Himalayan Cliff bee population.  To view a study on the status of Apis Laboriosa (Himalayan Cliff Bee) go to "The status of Apis Laboriosa in Western Nepal".  The European honey bee has also brought with it a bacteria which causes European Foulbrood (bee disease) to which the Himalayan bee has little resistance.  There are four types of honey bees native to Nepal: Apis Laboriosa; Apis Dorsata (Tropical giant Honey Bee); Apis Florea (Dwarf Honey Bee); and Apis Cerana (Asian Honey Bee).  To view the status of these native bees and the imported Apis Mellifera (European Honey Bee) go to Himalayan Honey Bees and Beekeeping in Nepal.

The Himalayan Honey Bee is aggressive and has never been domesticated as it does not use enclosed cavities for nesting

       The Himalayan Cliff bee is essential for the pollination of high altitude plants and their decreased populations puts these ecosystems in jeopardy.  For the past ten years groups have been working to protect the Himalayan Cliff bee by returning sustainable harvesting control back to the local villages and protecting habitat.  Their habitat has become fragmented due to deforestation.  In recent years bee populations have stabilized and it is hoped that increased income from "Honey harvesting tourism" will be an incentive for young people to learn the traditional harvesting methods of their elders.

Honey Harvesters are stung repeatedly (and I thought my bees were mean) 

    The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has created a "Center of Excellence for Asian Bees" to work with traditional honey hunters and beekeepers to maintain a healthy population of native honey bees and subsequently ensure needed pollination of native plants.
     Although Apis Dorsata, a family of bees which the Himalayan Cliff bee, Apis dorsata laboriosa is a member have never been kept by indigenous people because of it's aggressive nature, open nests and seasonal migration a form of sustainable beekeeping called "Rafter Beekeeping" has begun in Cambodia.  Unlike the traditional honey hunters the Cambodian Rafter beekeepers selectively take only portions of the honey leaving the nest intact.  The bees return year after year.  (Rafter Beekeeping).
     This wonderful film is about an English farmer and beekeeper who travels to Nepal to be part of the traditional, amazing honey harvest of the wild Himalayan Cliff bee.

     I will definitely add this to my bucket list (sustainably).  To check out great honey hunting photos from David Caprara go to The Honey Hunters of Nepal.  To watch honey hunting in Nepal go to Adventure Geo Treks.


  1. Excellent post! I hope to make this a future trek.


  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I've definitely put Himalayan Cliff bee honey harvesting on my bucket list.

  3. Glad to see a post like this. Thanks for sharing and keep it up.
    Nepal Tour