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The Magic Trees Of Assam
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In the North-East corner of India, there is a flying creature so ferocious that it is feared as much as the tiger. But it couldn’t be more different. Yet it is little known. Its life, to this day, is surrounded by mystery. Tigers, elephants and great Indian rhinos roam the tropical forests of Assam in northeastern India, but perhaps most thrilling are the teeming wild colonies of giant honeybees.
A camera team shows Assam's impressive natural treasures from a bee's perspective and beautifully documents the life cycle of these amazing insects, which mysteriously return to the same 'magic' trees each year.


Writer & Director: Paul Reddish
Camera: Wofgang Thaler, Ian McCarthy, Martin Saunders
Edit: Elisabeth Thoyts
Sound: Joe Knauer
Sound Editor: Paul Cowgill
Dubbing Mixer: Graham Wild
Music: Kurt Adametz

An epo-fim production for ORF in association with ZDF and National Geographic Television


The giant honeybees of Assam are amongst the most aggressive of all animals. They have a reputation for attacking en masse and every year local people are badly stung and die. Survivors have harrowing tales of their experiences. Yet an Austrian scientist is now trying to discover the secrets of these enigmatic killer bees. Dr. Gerald Kastberger ascends the huge forest trees that are the bees home. Dangling 150 feet off he ground, Dr. Kastberger approaches to within inches of the bees to perform his experiments. The consequences can be painful, and terrifying to watch, as thousands of bees mount an attack on the intruder. The giant honeybee sting is far more potent than the normal honeybee, and a hundred stings are enough to kill. Gerald is frequently stung during his work, but remains fascinated by his aggressive subjects.


Gerald has found that the bees are able to attack in huge numbers because they keep their bodies hot, ready to fly. In addition the scent of a sting attracts more bees and drives them to attack, and so the aggression escalates rapidly. The bees will continue to attack as far as a 1000 yards from their colony, so there is no escape from the buzzing, stinging onslaught. The greatest mystery, the puzzle that Gerald is still working on, relates to their migration. Each year the bees leave their homes in the forests of the Himalayan foothills, and move south. Many thousands of swarms, each containing tens of thousands of bees migrate, all along the range of the foothills. They pass some of the unique creatures of the Himalayas; pygmy hogs, the rarest and smallest of wild pigs, and Golden Langurs, beautiful and sacred monkeys. Dr Kastberger pursues the swarms by car, trying to piece together their route south onto the plains of the great Brahmaputra river. Local villagers help Gerald by telling him of the time honoured migration routes. Slowly a picture is emerging. The bees leave the foothills after the monsoon rains. There is no food, and so the bees are forced to depart. Somehow the queen senses this and stops laying eggs weeks before it is time to leave. On route, the bees rest in tight clusters.
But they make no comb, and so the queen cannot lay eggs. There are no new bees being born, and all the time they are migrating, older workers are dying. The colony is shrinking in size, and the bees are risking extermination. They must settle soon.


The bees are heading for the Magic Trees of Assam. These are scattered thinly over the plains. These trees look to human eyes like any other tree, yet the bees find their way back to these trees every year. Not just one colony, but as many as a hundred will settle into a magic tree over the course of a few days. There are many mysteries; many questions still unanswered. What is special about the magic tree? Why do dozens of swarms settle in the same tree? But the greatest mystery is how the bees find the tree. It is over a hundred miles from their homes in the foothills, a journey of three weeks, yet the bees unerringly find the magic tree. How? For Gerald, the migration is a tantalising mystery. Only the queen will have ever been to the magic tree before. Worker bees live only weeks, so all the workers that were at the tree last year died months ago, so how do the bees 'return'? The queen doesn't lead the swarm, scout bees pick the route, but they are migrating for the first and only time. The swarm is being guided to a destination by bees that have never been there before! How? The migration to the magic trees is one of nature's most intriguing mysteries. And it is a secret that bees still keep to themselves.


The Magic Trees of Assam, set in the ravishing scenery of north east India, combines a journey and a great mystery with electrifying footage of the world's most aggressive insect. The human adventure, and the elephants and rhinos, monkeys and giant spiders that form a part of the migration, makes for a new and exciting natural history programme.



Fotos: Copyright by Free Spirit Films

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