The Citizen (Gauteng)

Group saves bees from extinction

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Kuala Lumpur – Placing his bare hands into a swarm of thousands of bees, a Malaysian man uses his fingers to gently guide some of them into a rattan basket.

Ooi Leng Chye is a member of a group that saves bees and their nests when they are discovered in cities, seeking to prevent the creatures from being destroyed by those who view them as pests.

Bees play a vital role in ecosystems as pollinator­s of major crops, but their numbers have been falling rapidly due to habitat loss, pollution and pesticides.

The United Nations warns that 40% of invertebra­te pollinator­s – in particular bees and butterflie­s – risk global extinction.

In Malaysia, green activists founded the “My Bee Savior Associatio­n” to help stem the decline.

When the group is tipped off about nests in areas such as under roofs and near trees, their volunteers try to carefully remove the bees and take them to new sites.

One of Ooi’s recent cases was in the car park of an apartment building, whose managers had reported a suspected nest.

In an empty space behind a wall under plasterboa­rd, he and two other volunteers discovered half a dozen honeycombs and countless bees, a colony they believe had been there for months.

Wearing a short-sleeved shirt, trousers and sandals, Ooi – whose day job is as a software developer – was relaxed as he scooped up the bees with his hands into the basket.

“I’m not afraid of them,” the 48-year-old later said as scores of bees buzzed around his uncovered face.

“Bees only attack out of self-defence.

“They won’t attack you for no reason – you just need to understand their behaviour.”

On this trip, Ooi’s arms were stung about four times but he shrugged off the pain as “pretty light”.

Though his arms are covered in stings from previous expedition­s, he only puts on a beekeeper’s suit when facing the most aggressive of the insects.

“[With a suit], you won’t be able to be as gentle when scooping up the bees,” he said.

After nearly two hours, almost the entire nest is collected, with a basket of bees wrapped in a cloth and net, and the honeycomb inside plastic bags.

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