Page last updated at 23:15 GMT, Saturday, 9 August 2008 00:15 UK

Jimmy's quest for high-rise honey

By Christina Holvey
BBC Natural History Unit

Jimmy studied the locals and then hung over the cliff himself


We were on a mission to film a honey bee so colossal it can survive at incredible altitudes in the Himalayas.

To make things more difficult, these bees have a sting to match, and they build their huge three-metre-long nests high on sheer cliff faces.

Every year, the local people of Nepal risk their lives to harvest wild honey from the cliffs, climbing long bamboo ladders, and collecting the combs in a traditional, but very precarious, manner.

For reasons which should have been obvious, these bees have only ever been filmed from a great distance - our grand plan was to capture their little display rituals and dances in glorious full-blown high-definition… but that was only the half of it.

Our presenter Jimmy Doherty, himself a keen bee-keeper, had been invited to not only witness the harvest, but to join in too!

Honey hunter (BBC)
These people risk their lives to farm their local honey

This meant he would be dangling off a tiny ladder over a 60m cliff, surrounded by over two million giant angry bees.

Seated by the river bank at the foot of a bee cliff, surrounded by smoke and the toxic smell of local rice wine, we all craned our necks to watch the tiny figure perched high above us on a bamboo rung, surrounded by a black cloud of buzzing.

Jimmy was sitting beside me watching intently, desperately trying to absorb the technique this local honey hunter was using - for tomorrow it would be his turn up the ladder.

The honey hunter held a long pole, which he was using as a simple cutting tool to slice through the brood comb, a huge two-metre-long, bright-yellow waxy lobe, behind which the honey was kept.

Suddenly there was a loud shout from above, and I saw a door shaped yellow object hurtle towards the ground and crash square on to the head of a man stood directly below.

The impact was so colossal it completely floored him, and honey splattered all over the place, enveloping him like a big sugary, gloopy parcel.

Jim and honey hunter (BBC)
Jimmy had to share the experience

Everyone jumped up. Our on-location doctor ran forward to help, seeing him lying on the floor absolutely up to his eyeballs in one of the most expensive honeys in the world. I actually thought he was dead.

Two men helped him to his feet, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. I have never seen a honey-glazed man before; but suddenly there was one staggering unsteadily towards me, his eyes bloodshot but smiling cheerfully, and licking himself all over.

When I asked the doctor later if the man had suffered any concussion, it turned out the wobbliness and bloodshot eyes had less to do with the bonk on the head, and rather more to do with copious amounts of local brew.

Jimmy and the Wild Honey Hunters is broadcast on BBC One at 2000 BST on Sunday 10 August.


SEE ALSO
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30 Jul 08 |  Science/Nature
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08 May 08 |  Science/Nature
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