World Bee Day: Rescue the bee, yet avoid the sting

Updated - May 20, 2024 08:05 pm IST

Published - May 19, 2024 08:05 pm IST - HYDERABAD

Dhananjaya R., a bee rescuer from Bengaluru, takes a selfie with a hive.

Dhananjaya R., a bee rescuer from Bengaluru, takes a selfie with a hive. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Honey bees are the cupids of plant world. Their role in pollination is well known, as is the climate crisis associated with their fast dwindling numbers. As urbanisation limits the habitats of bees, they are finding spots under window ledges, AC units, and porticos.

Amit Godse, a bee rescuer from Pune, poses with a hive.

Amit Godse, a bee rescuer from Pune, poses with a hive. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The instinctive response when one finds a bee hive hanging from the balcony or the AC unit, or even a tree closer home is to get someone to light a fire to kill the insects and harvest the honey.

Humane response

But, there is a more humane response than killing the bees, say environmentalists. Bee rescue is catching up in the country, and could soon reach the city too. Like snake rescue, which has become all too common now, bee rescue involves removing the hive without hurting the bees.

“One out of every three bites of food we consume comes from a plant that is visited by pollinators like bees. Protecting honey bees and their habitats is essential for sustaining our eco system, food system and overall health of the planet,” says Shiva Kumar Varma, founder of the NGO Voice of Nature, who calls for humane handling of bee hives on the occasion of World Bee Day that falls on May 20.

He is in consultation with experts who can train bee rescuers in the city. In India, there are five major honey bee species — rock bee, Indian hive bee, dwarf bee, European bee and stingless bee. While European bee is used in bee-keeping by apiculturists, the remaining are all ‘feral’ bees. Rescue methods differ based on the species.

Unfortunately, despite their role in promotion of biological diversity, the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 does not prescribe measures for protection of pollinator species.

Amit Godse from Pune, who calls himself a ‘bee-man’, left a lucrative job in Information Technology to start his own beekeeping enterprise.

He says his team has rescued more than 13,000 bee hives since 2015, most of them in Maharashtra, and offers to train people from other cities as well in rescue operations.

“Our operations majorly involve relocation or rescue, based on the bee species. As part of rescue, we cut the hive and apply a repellent gel. In about a week’s time, the bees leave the hive in search of newer areas,” Godse says.

Organic smoke

As part of relocation, they expose the hive to organic smoke in limited quantity to make the bees leave the hive temporarily. After that, they shift the hive to a box, and find another location to hang it.

V. Venkatesh, a bee rescuer from Bengaluru, in the act of releasing rescued bees | Video Credit: Special Arrangement

V. Venkatesh is another barefoot bee rescuer from Bengaluru. His method is rather simpler. He wears protective suit, complete with gloves and shoes, and simply removes the hive with hands.

“I throw away the hive and collect the bees in a sack, to leave them on the city outskirts,” he says. Though hardly literate, Venkatesh knows the significant role bees play in maintaining biodiversity, and refuses to kill them.

V. Venkatesh, a bee rescuer from Bengaluru, in the act of removing a hive | Video Credit: Special Arrangement

Dhananjaya R., also from Bengaluru, uses mild smoke generated from coconut fibre to drive the bees away.

“After removing the hive, I check it for larvae. If no larvae are found, I throw it away. If it contains larvae, I hang it to a tree less than 20 kilometres away, because the bees have the ability to locate the hive within this distance,” he says.

Each such operation gets him six to seven stings, but he says his body has got accustomed to the venom. “I remove the stinger immediately, which reduces the swelling,” Dhananjaya says.

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