spacer logo top header curve header
logo left logo right
Honey Hunters of Malaysia

audio icon Listen to the show

April 19, 1999 -- Join Radio Expeditions for a visit to Malaysia and the annual honey harvesting rituals in northern Kedah province.

Under the guidance of American bee scientist Dr. Stephen L. Buchmann, author of The Forgotten Pollinators, and Dr. Makhdzir Mardan of the Universiti Putra Malaysia, we'll learn about the honey hunters. These are men who risk their lives in night-time raids high above the ground in some of the world's tallest trees. Some of the 220-foot-tall Tualang trees are home to nearly 5 million Asiatic honeybees. The hunt takes place on moonless nights in early spring -- a time when the honey hunters are able to climb the trees - totally in the dark - and not get stung too much.

For more than 30 years, Pak Teh, the leader of the honey hunters, has made the nocturnal climb to the upper canopy. There he and the other honey hunters encourage the bees to leave the colonies by rapping a lighted torch against one of the 80 colonies. The sparks attract the giant Apis Dorsata bees which fly from their hives and follow the sparks to the ground leaving the honeycomb temporarily unguarded.

Honey harvesting is dangerous work, and fewer and fewer people seem willing to do it. Twenty percent of the honey hunters in this region have quit in the last decade and, according to Dr. Mardan, it is Malaysia's increasingly modern and vibrant economy that is the biggest threat to this ancient ritual.

Tualang Tree Tualang Tree

bottom curve left spacer bottom curve right