The Honey Harvest

by Chadd McGlone
Chapel Hill, NC, United States

The world’s largest mangrove forest is located in southwestern Bangladesh along its border with India. Few forests remain in this area, due to agricultural development in the fertile delta. One of the last preserved tracts constitutes the Sundarbans National Park. In addition to providing a home for mangroves, the Sundarbans also serves as a habitat for the endangered Bengal tiger, saltwater crocodile, venomous snakes, leopards, and many species of insect. The giant honey bee, the largest, most aggressive bee in the world, produces its prized honey there.

In order to collect this honey, hundreds of Mawlai fishermen take a 3-week break from their day jobs. In boats containing teams of 7 to 10 people, the fishermen travel the muddy saltwater creeks that crisscross the thick mangrove forest. Every moment of their journey poses a potential danger. The biggest risk comes from the Bengal tigers, which kill at least 15 people each season.


Practices have developed over generations to safeguard the honey gatherers. For example, before beginning their expedition, the men pray to the forest god Bonbibi for protection. The honey collectors also wear masks or loose-fitting headscarves to provide attacking tigers with a harmless place to bite. Despite their best efforts, nearly every collector has a story to tell about a tiger encounter, many of which left deep scars as mementos.

When a honey hunter spots a hive high in the branches of a mangrove tree (they are hard to miss, being up to 9 feet in diameter!), team members light a fire to drive the bees away. Next, the best climber scurries up the tree to collect the honey and honey comb. While he climbs, the remaining team members clap their hands and blow horns to fend off any tigers that might be stalking them.


An individual honey collector will harvest about 4 maunds of honey (one maund is equal to approximately 83 pounds) and is paid between 5,800 and 6,700 taka each year (one dollar is worth about 79 taka). Honey or not, that’s some pretty sweet cash!

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Satellite image of the Sundarbans National Park
Satellite image of the Sundarbans National Park


Are you a teacher interested in telling this story to your students? Here’s a slideshow to get you started!

Math Questions

  1. If a family has 4 adults collecting honey, how much (in take and U.S. dollars) will this family make in a year?
  2. If the tigers attack 15 people each year, how many will they attack in 15 years?
  3. Research the average height of a mangrove tree in this area. Would it be possible to use a 10-foot ladder to reach the top? How tall would a person have to be?

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Extension Questions

Mangrove forests have been shown to sustain many other types of human activity. What are some of them? Which ones do you think are the most important to the health of the planet as a whole?

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  1. Article about the honey harvest from Oregon State University
  2. UNESCO page on the Sundarbans
  3. World Wildlife Fund page on the Sundarbans
  4. Longreads article on honey harvesting
  5. BBC News article on collecting honey
  6. ABC News article on tiger widows

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