In Harenna Forest, south-east Ethiopia, hand-carved beehives are placed high in the tree canopies. Reaching them to retrieve the sweet, sticky nectar is arduous – and often dangerous.

By Ella Buchan (BBC) |

The sun was beginning its evening dip as I set off into the Harenna Forest. Strange tubular shapes glowed in the treetops, catching the pale golden light.

Wedged between branches, they looked like elongated wine barrels or giant cocoons.

I was en route to witness a unique honey harvest in the forest. Here, on the southern slopes of Bale Mountains National Park in south-east Ethiopia, hand-carved beehives are placed high in the tree canopies. Reaching them to retrieve the sweet, sticky nectar is arduous – and often dangerous.

Local guide Ziyad and I followed beekeeper Said over a flower-strewn meadow before being swallowed into a tangle of trees.

The Harenna Forest is straight out of a children’s storybook. Giant heather and fig trees, elegantly clothed in emerald moss, stretch out their branches as though frozen mid-dance. Black-maned lions roam the area, which is also home to olive baboons, warthogs and endangered Bale monkeys. On our walk, a white-cheeked turaco fixed us with its orange-rimmed eye, striking against pickle-green plumage.

Said began preparations, gathering handfuls of moss and lichen, wrapping the bundle with twine and lighting it to create a glowing bouquet for smoking out the bees.

A curious colobus monkey watched nearby as Said scaled the Hagenia abyssinica, a native tree whose sturdy branches and vast, umbrella-shaped crown provides a secure, sheltered home for the hives. He was barefoot and equipped with a single rope – a luxury not all local beekeepers can afford.

He shimmied up a few meters at a time, pausing every few minutes to loop the rope higher up the broad trunk. The hive was around 20m above the ground. Finally, straddling a branch, he inched towards it and blew smoke from his mossy torch into a tiny hole in the hive, releasing a flurry of glowing embers into the air.

Continue reading this story at BBC
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