Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tracking Wild Honey Bees in Tropical Forest

I reached Kampung Jejak Seberang, a remote village in Kuala Pilah, about 11.30 am on Nov 28, 2010. The purpose was to meet Zailani or Zai, an experience wild-bee’s honey collector in the area and to make an arrangement with him to collect samples of wild-bee's honey in a few locations within the region for a research. I knew Zai about ten years back when I took a group of students to make observation on how rural people harvest the bee's honey in the forest.  I remembered  that we spend  six hours  at night ten years ago  in the forest at Sungai Talam, not far from the village.  We observed how  a group of village people lead by Zai  managed to bring down wild-bee's honey from a  25 meter-tall tualang tree.
When I met Zai, he did not recognize me since it was a long time ago we met.  Then I mentioned to him, “Do you remember that I and a group of students went with you to collect  bee's  honey in the forest, and throughout that night we heard the continuous roaring of a tiger not far from us?”  Zai said, “Yes!  You are a professor from UTM...“.  
Backdrop view of Kampung Jejak Seberang

He mentioned that the place was at Sungai Talam Forest not far from the village. It was very rare to encounter a tiger in the forest and that’s why he can easily recalled back the experience when I mentioned it. Zai said that the bee’s season normally started from February and ended sometime in August. This was the period when many trees were flowering, including fruits trees (such as durian, mango, rambutan), wild flower trees and also rubber trees. He said bees take honey from any flowers that are not poisonous. He said wild bees collect honey from 99 flowers of different kinds. He also mentioned on three different species of bees, which he called Tampoi (yellow in color), Nyenyolong (a bit long), and Beruang (black color). The first kind (tampoi) normally produces very little honey in the hive and not worth the effort to collect it. The other two species have lots of honey.
Zai was born in Java in 1944, came to the Malaysia in 1969, and settled down in the village in 1976 when married to the local. He has 9 children, in which three are married and the youngest one aged 17. He began collecting wild-bee's honey when he was 20s, but was more actively involved starting from 1981 at the age of 37. But collecting honey is his occasional job; the main jobs are tapping rubber trees and production of brown sugar from enau palm. Sometimes he was hired to do other kinds of village works such as chopping down tree and clearing of farm land. 

Brown sugar from enau palm; the juice collected from the flower stalk of the palm is boiled for 6 hours until it almost dry; a little coconut powder is added  to turn it into a solid form
The flower stalk has to be knocked with a stick/hard object about 30 minutes each day for about a week before it is ready to be cut and produce juicy liquid for a month. Each day it  could produce about four liters of juice.

Zai ‘harvest’ wild-bee's honey during the night. First he has to search for the bees hive in the forest or sometime gets information from friends including Orang Asli who work in the forest. When the honey is matured to be collected Zai will call a few friends to prepare for the harvest which include:
Cutting bamboo to make spikes/nails for the trail on the tree.
Prepare a bundle of dry coconut leaves for making fire to remove/clear bees from hive.
The final task is to cut the portion of the hive that contain honey into a container and bring it down using a rope.

The most tedious one is to make trail on the tree trunk by hammering the bamboo spikes into the trunk and climbing the tree which may be as high as 25 meters and could be towards the further part of the tree branch.
Upon reaching the hive, the bundle of dry leaves is put on fire and when the leaves is shook  the red dust of fire will fall down  to the ground. All the bees at the hive will fly towards the red dust of fire leaving the hive safe for removing the honey. This work well when the sky is dark. For instant when there is moon light,  as what I experienced ten years ago we had to wait till late mid-night for the moon to disappear, then the burning could begun.
 According to Zai wild-bee's honey now very difficult to get because forest has been cleared for palm oil plantation. In addition there are many collectors such as among Orang Asli who used to harvest the honey during daytime and used insect's spray to kill the bees before they can safely collect the honey in the hive. This method could make bees extinct or non sustainable.
At the end of the meeting we decided sometimes in March 2011 for the bee's tracking to collect samples of honey for research in lab… to be continued…


  1. Assalamualaikum Dr,

    Telah saya buat pautan blog Dr ini di blog saya. Moga akan bertambah rajin untuk menulis dan menambah material yang menarik (semestinya) untuk tatapan semua.

    Harapnya setiap ilmu dan pengalaman yang dikongsikan itu mendatangkan manfaat bersama.


  2. Salam Dr,

    Very surprise!Congratulations for this very knowledgeable blog. Maybe, since now, I have also to start something...Hisyam, in a few years ago has also ask to me to write..but, always, the time is to be the main I have learnt that, we can't to manage our time..but we should manage ourself...Very Good Luck to you.