Gallery: The incredible honey hunters of the Himalayan foothills
andrew-newey-1                                                                                                                          Image: Andrew Newey

Growing up to 3 centimetres (1.2 inches) in length, the Himalayan cliff honey bee of Nepal is the world's largest honeybee. 

Found only in the foothills of the Himalayas, building their homes at altitudes of between 2,500 and 3,000 metres (8,200 and 9,800 feet) and foraging as high up as 4,100 metres (13,500 feet) above the ground, these insects have a unique ability to thrive at incredible heights. They're so good at it, that the rest of the Himalayan honey bee population, called Apis dorsata, has stayed down in the lowlands of Nepal, and the lack of breeding between the two has seen the Himalayan cliff honey bee population classified into its own subspecies, Apis dorsata laboriosa.

The Himalayan cliff honey bee is the only species in the world to produce a type of honey called red spring honey, and it cannot be reproduced by commerical beekeepers due to the high altitudes that give it its unique properties. Said to be "intoxicating and relaxing", red spring honey is understandably very valuable, and twice a year, honey hunters from the Gurung population of Nepal risk their lives to harvest it up in the foothills.

Andrew Newey, an award-winning UK-based documentary travel photographer, headed out to the site to photograph this centuries-old tradition. "For hundreds of years, the skills required to practise this ancient and sacred tradition have been passed down through the generations," Newey says at his website, "but now both the number of bees and traditional honey hunters are in rapid decline as a result of increased commercial interests and climate change."

In order to combat this, says Emma Bryce at Wired UK, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development is establishing a Centre of Excellence for Asian Bees and Pollination in Kathmandu, to protect wild bees and encourage sustainable honey hunting.

"Climate change has a great impact on the wild bee nests, mainly because it affects the availability of nectar and pollen for the bees," Uma Partap from the Centre told Bryce. "Bees contribute to livelihoods and enhance agriculture productivity. Yet populations are in decline."

Check out some of Andrew Newey's incredible photographs below, and head to his website to view the rest of his collection.

andrew-newey-4

Credit: Andrew Newey
andrew-newey-6
Credit: Andrew Newey
andrew-newey-3
Credit: Andrew Newey
andrew-newey-2
Credit: Andrew Newey
andrew-newey-5
Credit: Andrew Newey