Honey Hunters

A stunning exploration of bees, their habitats, and mankind's relentless quest for their precious honey

Honey Hunters 1 in every 3 bites of food are, in some way, pollinated by honey bees. Across the globe, various traditions have retained a respect and love for these small insects, despite their alarming decline. From the perilous hills of Nepal to the unlikely rooftops of Paris, this breathtaking doc showcases honey bees in all their majestic glory, and the extreme techniques involved in protecting, breeding and harvesting the produce of these extraordinary animals.

“A regular person wouldn't climb the cliff and cannot hunt for honey.” Ganga Bahadur Gurung is one of his village’s honey hunters. This position confers immense prestige, but also considerable risk. To gather the honey, he must ascend an enormous cliff face swarming with bees. Clinging precariously to a rope ladder and engulfed by smoke designed to drive away the bees, Ganga jousts at a nest until he cuts away the exposed honeycomb. Even the slightest slip and he could fall to his death below. This time the hunt is a success: nobody is hurt, and Ganga and his helpers take plenty of honey back to the village.

The Gurung tribespeople of Nepal have been collecting honey from Himalayan cliffs for centuries. While the Gurung’s method is perhaps the most extreme, honey harvesting is a near universal practice; from the tree beekeepers (bartniks) of Bashkortostan, Russia, to the amateur beekeepers of Paris, people around the world have cultivated a range of ingenious methods to harvest honey. For Junir and Gazinur, father and son beekeepers from Bashkorotstan, the honey harvest is their main source of income and also deeply intertwined with their family’s tradition and history: on every tree that they harvest they cut the ‘tamga’ or signature of the Ibragimov family.

Yet the future of the bee and the practice of honey gathering are under threat. Francesco Panella, spokesperson for the European Beekeeping Coordination, fears that the introduction of powerful new insecticides is wiping out the insects that directly or indirectly pollinate nearly a third of global food resources. “The problem is the emergence of new types of insecticides. One gram of neonicotinoids is as toxic as 7,360 grams of DDT. The terrible DDT.”

Junir and Gazinur have witnessed the decline first-hand. Though their own hives are thriving, others close to them have not been so fortunate. “In our village my brothers lost their whole apiaries. This year some wild-bee keepers lost all the bees in their tree hives.” For Dr Dennis van Engelsdorp, the fate of the bees presents a stark warning for the future. “I think that we have to understand what going on because I think is there something fundamentally changing and fundamentally wrong with our environment.”

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