Gathering wild cliff honey in China’s Yunnan province is not for the faint-hearted -- honey hunters face swarms of bees and are stung repeatedly while suspended from rope ladders.
Kevin Frayer, a photographer with Getty, recently went honey hunting with a group of ethnic Lisu people in China’s mountainous Yunnan province.
All Photographs: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
Chinese ethnic Lisu honey hunter Mi Qiaoyun struggles with a pole as he stands on a makeshift rope ladder surrounded by bees as he works gathering wild cliff honey from hives in a gorge near Mangshi, in Dehong prefecture, Yunnan province China. Cliff honey is considered purer and healthier than regular honey, and it is coveted by many in China where it typically sells for upwards of $50 (Rs 3,470) per kilogram.
Mi Qiaoyun, right, and Ma Yongde sit still next to a fire they set to deter bees before gathering wild cliff honey from hives.
Dong Haifa, left, Mi Qiaoyun, center, and Ma Yongde build a makeshift rope ladder as they prepare to gather wild cliff honey from the hives. To get the liquid gold, honey hunters face swarms of bees and get stung repeatedly while suspended from rope ladders; lower hives can often be reached with wooden ladders or poles.
Mi Qiaoyun is surrounded by bees as he stands on a makeshift ladder while gathering wild cliff honey. The bees surrounding the honey hunters are typically 3 cm in length. The Lisu are known to be skilful mountaineers, but fewer are now practising the dangerous and exhausting pursuit of honey hunting.
Hives can bee seen as Mi Qiaoyun is surrounded by bees as he climbs on a makeshift ladder while gathering wild cliff honey. Hunters suit up in protective gear and use smoke to scatter the giant Himalayan honey bees from their hives to reduce the risk of confrontation, but there are literally thousands of them in each hive.
Dong Haifa, top, and Mi Qiaoyun stand on a makeshift rope ladder as they are surrounded by bees as they work together gathering wild cliff honey. They never take honey from all of the hives in one area, leaving enough for the bees to ensure they will return the following season. But some say they are finding fewer hives each year because bee populations are being impacted by global warming and the use of pesticides among local farmers.
A honey hunter holds a large piece of wax from a hive. A single hive can have many kilograms inside.
Lisu honey hunter Ma Yongde, right, and helper Dongwu collect wild cliff honey while gathering with others. Harvesting the honey has long been a cultural tradition and economic staple for the Lisu people, an ethnic group in the southwest mountainous areas of Yunnan province along China's border with Myanmar.
Ma Yongde carries honey on his back after gathering wild cliff honey from the hives.
Ma Yongde, left, Dong Haifa, center, and his mother clean fresh wild cliff honey at the family home after gathering it from hives. The honey is believed to have medicinal -- and sometimes slightly hallucinogenic -- properties.