Bambara’s come to Nelum Pokuna – Let it bee, don’t kill them: Experts

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Indispensable to mankind’s food chain, extinction of the bee would cause widespread famines leading to starvation en masse By Malaka Rodrigo

The Nelum Pokuna which has been opened few months back has recently troubled by residents came uninvited. These were the Bambaras known as Giant Honeybee or Apis dorsata scientifically. The Bambaras visited Nelum Pokuna few weeks back and build 2 colonies on steal structures. The colonies were on high, but seeing these as a threat to VIPs regularly visiting Nelum Pokuna, it was requested to remove the hives. Experts were also consulted, but afterward it is said that a worker in Nelum Pokuna using traditional ways of smoking has managed to distract the bees from structure. After several smoking attempts, the bees had abandoned the unwelcomed Nelum Pokuna.

The inhabitants of the bee hive has not been damaged on this way of smoking as reported to the SundayTimes, but there are other instances that the hives have been burnt or of spraying of pesticides on them killing the bees in whole colony. Even in Sigiriya, there were speculations that its bambara colonies were burnt or chemically destroyed in 2010.

Bambara colony at NelumPokuna

Dr. R.W.K. Punchihewa – Sri Lanka’s foremost bee researcher addressing a lecture organized by the Rukrakaganno at Dambulla recently called killing the bees are a crime as they perform a very important Ecosystem Service by pollinating flowers. If all bees vanished, there would be great famines, and many people would die of starvation. Many fruits and vegetables would be so rare and expensive that few could afford them.

Some of the cereals can be pollinated by other means such as wind, but many of the vegetables such as pumpkin, cucumber, gherkin and fruits such as Apple, Orange, and Strawberries – were dependent on insects for pollination. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that of about 100 crop species that provide 90% of food supplies for 146 countries, 71 are bee-pollinated, primarily by wild bees.

But bees are being declined everywhere due to many reasons ranging from deceases to use of pesticides in agriculture. A recent study in India too highlighted that a decline in pollinating insects in India is resulting in reduced vegetable yields and could limit people’s access to a nutritional diet. There is no proper study done in Sri Lanka, but to assess the situation and to propose a National Action Plan to conserve these important pollinators, a program called “National Pollinator Initiative” too has been launched recently by the Biodiversity Secretariat. Dr.Punchihewa is charring this committee which consists of eminent scientists.

Dr.Punchihewa pointed out that the Giant Honeybee or the Bambara is the most important pollinator in Sri Lankan context. ‘Bambara moves from coastal parts of Sri lanka to the central highlands keep on pollinating flowers bloom in different trees and plants in different times. Sri Lanka has over 4000 flowering plants and insects – primarily the bees are responsible in pollinating over 90% of them. Even the bambara colonized Sigiriya usually from usually around January-February and start moving further south from July according to the bee expert.

However, every year on these months the Bambara are taking headlines, due to frequent attacks in

Dr.R.K.W.Punchihewa

Sigiriya. On past months, several attacks were also reported from other areas of Sri Lanka with number of casualties hospitalized painting a bad picture on bees. Dr.Punchihewa pointed out many of these attacks are avoidable and in the case of Sigiriya, a natural vegetational barrier could be implemented to minimize the interaction between bees and visitors which lead to reduce the attacks. The Giant Honeybee depends on the flowers and is continuously bringing nectar to the hive. The flowers may be on the ground a mile away and currently the bees’ flying route – naturally the shortest possible path – may be only few yards from the Sigiriya visitors’ passage. When these paths cross, one or two bees may get too close to an unwary visitor who attempts to chase them away. If this unlucky bee gets crushed, then it emits a pheromone – a chemical smell that spurs the soldier bees to attack. “Make a barrier of vegetation to deviate this flying path further from visitors to avoid the crossing points and hence avoid confrontation,” says Dr. Punchihewa. Shrubs and lianas can create a curtain-like barrier.

This solution has been proposed to the Central Cultural Fund, but there doesn’t seem to be any action to implement this simple solution. After several attacks this year, it again raises pressures that Sigiriya hives has to be removed. This has been a low cost solution which is not hard to implement is worth trying for and Environmentalists question whether it is because the solution is too cheap, that the Cultural Fund is not even attempting it atleast for one season.

Reliance of some selected crops on bees for pollination

For god’s sake – Bambara is not wasps or hornets

“Beware of Hornets” read the warning signs erected by Cultural Fund on Sigiriya. On other instances, they are being called as ‘Wasps’. But this is Wrong and after years of reminding, the wrong names still continue to be used, cried the bee expert.

Wasps are carnivorous insects that build a different kind of nest and are known as debara in Sinhala. Technically speaking, the hornet is a larger species of wasp. Those who nest at Sigiriya are Giant Honeybees or Rock Bees that are scientifically classified as Apis dorsata,” explains Dr. R.W.K. Punchihewa.

Perhaps it is the time someone corrects this at Sigiriya and erect boards indicating the importance of these key pollinators. There cannot be a better site than sigiriya to have this awareness.

Giant Honeybee colonies at Sigiriya

Published on Sunday Times on 03.2012 www.sundaytimes.lk/120603/News/nws_13.html

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