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TFM EXCLUSIVE: Asian giant hornet rearing is now a means of lucrative income generation

Khuirei nests on display for sale

The price of Khuirei (Asian Giant Hornet) has dramatically shot up in the past two years. It is being sold at Rs 1500 per kilo at Ava Market, Phungreitang, Ukhrul. The price of one whole nest of Khuirei may range between 25 thousand to 40 thousand rupees. No wonder, Khuirei rearing has become one of the biggest annual income earning means in Ukhrul district.

By Tennoson Pheiray, TFM Ukhrul Correspondent

Locally known as ‘Khuirei”, the Asian giant hornet is considered as one of the most expensive and the finest delicacy among the Tangkhuls. The price of Khuirei has dramatically shot up in the past two years. It is being sold at Rs 1500 per kilo at Ava Market, Phungreitang, Ukhrul.

October is the harvest season for Khuirei. The price of one whole nest of Khuirei may range between 25 thousand to 40 thousand rupees. No wonder, Khuirei rearing has become one of the biggest annual income earning means in Ukhrul district.

Lemso Mashangva, a dedicated Khuirei rearer from Choithar village informed that this year he and his team managed to sell four nests and earned around Rs 1,50,000. There are many more Khuirei keepers like Lemso Mashangva who make good money in the month of October.

In search of a hornet queen

The first step is spotting the queen of a hornet in the forest. It is an intricate and lengthy process. After spotting the lone queen,  the hornet hunters set up feeding stations by soaking cotton with a sugary substance or finding the sap of a tree where the hornet queen comes to refill now and then.

And as they fly back and forth to the nest from the feeding station, the hornet hunter follows the direction and try to identify by circling into the smaller area looking for the nest. Or sometimes, tie a piece of white paper on the hornet around the portion between the head and abdomen and follow the hornet.

Sometimes, it takes a week or more to spot one nest. The green leave of trees, bushy grass, and sloppy terrain only make the hornet hunter wear out of its energy and patience, while the hornet easily escapes from the good eyesight. It takes someone with skill and energy to follow and spot a hornet nest. Once spotted, it is marked and guarded waiting for the larvae to hatch. When the larva hatch, the hornets are transferred to a dug-up pit.

The art of rearing Khuirei

Rearing of Khuirei has become a sport, hobby and a lucrative income-generating venture for many. The rearing stage starts somewhere in the month of April/May with the queen hornet and a few workers of 4-10. Hives of these hornets are collected carefully from the wild and are placed in specially dug pits. Choosing the site and placing the nest once brought for rearing is very important. The progress and growth of their home will greatly depend on how the nest is placed. The basic principle is that one must mark the nest that faces the hole/opening of the tunnel (in its original nest) and the same marked spot on the hives should face the same tunnel position (in a man-made nest). The nest is attached to a log of wood as big as our arm measuring 6 feet or more with wire or bamboo. Another 2 more logs of the same size and length are placed on both sides with a distance of 10 inches to hold the nest and also to prevent a collapse of the nest when it becomes heavy.

It is important to dig good drainage around the spot so that the water doesn’t seep in and spoil the home when it rains. Also, make a roof-like structure to prevent direct raindrops falling over and into the tunnel.

The joy of watching the Khuirei

The workers that are females but cannot lay eggs work endlessly and tirelessly for building their nest and extending their territory. The number of workers hovering in the air for food and hundreds guarding their territory is a delightful sight. One can also witness hundreds of ground workers carrying a lump of soil and disposing it neatly. The process resembles the making of a freshly dug playground. During its peak stage, the workers can even carry a distance of 10-15 feet to dispose of the chunk of soil.

The size of a Khuirei hive is calculated and measured by the quantity of soil the workers have dug out over time. An interested buyer would usually enquire “how many tins of soil”, a tin equals about 20 kilograms of soil. If it is above eight tins, it is considered a good one and will fetch Rs 30 thousand easily.

The hornet attack

The stronger Khuireis attack and can even wipe out the weaker colony members.  Khuirei, being the largest kind of bee found in Ukhrul region attacks all kinds of bees that are within its vicinity. A sting by Khuirei can be severe and even fatal to human beings. The venom is so strong that for 24 hours you can feel the pain.

The hornet festival

Come October, it is harvest time and a time to taste the most delicious delicacy. In some villages of Ukhrul and Kamjong Districts, the village community as a whole would fix a date to set off for hunting of hornet larvae. Whatever quantity collected on that day would be shared equally or cooked after organising a grand feast for the whole villagers.

Future propagation of hornets

Khuirei keepers in Ukhrul usually leave the last hive for future propagating. The rest of the hives are taken for consumption. The last hives are placed properly in the comb so that they hatch into young adults and later into queens. Khuirei hibernates during the winter season and comes out during spring to continue their life cycle.

Threat to hornet rearing

Khuirei thrives best in an area where there is an abundance of trees that produce sap. The sap from the tree is the source of water and nutrients for the larvae and drone. The adult Khuirei guards the sap-producing tree against being invaded by other bees from different colonies. Constant clashes and fights between the members of different colony members take at this juncture resulting in hundreds of drones being killed and maimed. The Khuirei can travel many miles for food, sap, and domination of the area.

However, due to the rapid increase in the felling of trees, the source of sap as nutrients and food for Khuirei has rapidly decreased and has hampered their growth besides threatening their existence. Blatant felling of trees has impacted biodiversity including human beings in so many ways. It is true even for the hornet. Rearing hornets has become more difficult due to the rare availability of sap and food. Due to deforestation and wanton setting of forest on fire, the hornets are slowly depreciating in number.

To all the Khuirei keepers, may you all have a good harvest! Let us also learn to plant more trees for their survival.

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