By Pat Dial
Kaieteur News – Within the last four weeks, at least four persons were reported in the media as having been killed by Africanised bees. These bees have also killed livestock and even dogs. Before the arrival of Africanised bees in Guyana, the bees found here were Capilanos, a mild European bee, and there was never any report of anyone being stung to death.
The Africanised bee’s origin could be traced to a laboratory: Some Brazilian scientists were experimenting with crossing captured bees from Africa with other strains. The African bees were far greater honey producers than other strains, but other strains were gentler and easier to manage. The laboratory was expected to produce a new bee with the best qualities of the African and the other strains. Unfortunately, some of the African bees escaped and multiplied prolifically, moving into the Amazon jungles northwards until they became the main species in the continent. As they moved into a locality, they eliminated the other strains and today, Capilanos have become a rarity in Guyana. When the Ministry speaks of bees, they are likely to be speaking of Africanised bees.
These Africanised bees are regarded as dangerous because they are very sensitive and easily disturbed and when disturbed they attack the perceived enemy in persistent swarms staying around the victim for at least half an hour pouring their poisons into the victim’s body. Victims become disabled, or die because of the large amount of poison in their bodies. Even if victims take shelter in a canal or lake, the bees stay about for at least half an hour. If one is attacked by a swarm or even smaller numbers, it is best to run away since they only follow for about 200 yards.
In agricultural areas, they nest in trees and are disturbed with the least noise and attack the drivers of agricultural machines with such speed and suddenness that over the years, several such persons were fatally stung. In towns and more populated areas, they nest in closed or uninhabited buildings or even in the less frequented parts of a home. Other favourite places of their nesting are abandoned refrigerators, old cars, paint pots, old vehicle tyres, bushy fences, septic tanks and graves in the cemetery.
When the bees first made their appearance in Guyana several years ago, the Ministry of Agriculture had established a unit from which the public could seek assistance to eliminate them. Then they discontinued the service and householders had to employ private exterminators at a fee. Most of these private exterminators were trained at the Ministry of Agriculture and if they could capture the bees they did so and if they were able to reap honey they also did so.
After some years, the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA) was given the responsibility of dealing with the bees but their activities were restricted to public buildings, markets, schools, churches and public spaces such as parks, gardens and so on. If private persons needed assistance, GLDA would enlist the services of the Guyana Apiculture Society who had members in every Region but such assistance incurred a cost which had to be met by the householder.
Since Mr. Zulfikar Mustapha assumed the office of Minister of Agriculture, he has initiated many innovations in his year of service and among these he has extended the GLDA’s bee capturing and exterminating services to private persons. In Mr. Mustapha’s words, “Many persons have been making requests for us to assist and extend this service to residential spaces and we are now working to facilitate this… This is another initiative Government is offering to citizens in a bid to ensure quality services are extended while making sure they are safe”. Citizens who wish to free their homes and neighbourhoods from the bees could contact Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA) at telephone: 220 6556/7.
The Ministry has constructively and creatively linked its bee removal activities with developing the honey industry. Minister Mustapha pointed out: “When GLDA captures bees, it usually donates some of these bees to Amerindian communities or persons who wish to get involved in beekeeping. We have an apiary and are working to expand that facility. Authentic and quality honey production is also something on which the Government is working aggressively across the country”.
The GLDA has formulated a three-phase plan to effectively deal with bee removal and the extension and development of the honey industry. The first phase is to carry out greater surveillance efforts countrywide and to conduct a sustained bee awareness and educational campaign so that citizens would be better able to protect themselves from bee attacks and to extend the honey industry and develop the export market. The second phase is to allocate more funds and work with the Regional authorities in bee capturing and relocation. The third phase involves the intensification of staff training; building beekeepers’ capacity through workshops and seminars in all the Regions; and mapping locations from which bees have been removed and the locations where wild swarms are nesting. These phases are not mutually exclusive.
The country is on the threshold of a regime where no one would ever be stung to death by bees and where the honey industry would be developing and expanding providing employment and better incomes for a greater number of people.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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