The story of our native honeybees

Conservation stems from understanding a species.

This is at the heart of Rajani Mani’s documentary film Colonies in Conflict, a work in progress, in which she addresses the importance of Apis dorsata or Asian honey bees. They are one of the most important honey bee pollinators in tropical Asia. However, due to the burgeoning growth of the metropolis, there is a loss of their natural habitat. Adding to their distress, they are feared and poison is being used to kill them. Data shows there is a marked decline in bees all over the world. “Recently in Brazil half a billion bees were found dead. In Bengaluru,during pollination season around 300 beehives are destroyed every day due to sheer paranoia and lack of awareness about dorsata bees,” says Rajani.

Rajani, founder director of Elephant Corridor Films, an independent documentary film production company, whose earlier films include In God’s Own Country, Miles to Go, and Food? Health? Hope? says the inspiration for making the documentary came from her own experience, in Bengaluru, while trying to save bee hives in her community from being destroyed. “Since 2015, I have been trying to educate my community about honeybee hives and the need for their conservation. In one of the exchanges within our community, dorsata bees were being referred to as ‘killer bees’ and that for me was the tipping point — I wanted to take my skill as a communicator and filmmaker to document dorsata honeybees.”

Rajani says knowledge on the behaviour of the dorsata is needed to understand why there is ‘conflict’. “The dorsata are twilight foragers. Most honeybees are diurnal and forage during the day, but the dorsata are active during the dusk hours too. They get attracted to house lights believing them to be the sun. Similarly, in the absence of their natural habitat, like trees with large canopies or open rock faces, these bees nest in high rise apartments. Apartments are artificial rock faces for them. It is possible to live with these bees, a simple act of closing your windows or grills in the evening, will prevent bees from entering your home.”

The story of our native honeybees

Colonies in Conflict, which is being crowd funded, is about the unique space that belongs to the dorsata bees of the tropics. “In India, honeybee pollination accounts for over a 100 crops, covering pretty much most of what we eat and wear.”

Preserving the queen bee is key, says Rajani. “The average life span of the queen bee is three to four years, drone bees die after mating, and worker bees live for about two to three months. As the queen bee carries the memory of the hive, it is important to protect her. Studies show that if you stress the queen bee, those memories are imprinted on her, and get imprinted on her progeny as well.”

Rajani, however, contends her film is about hope too. “There is a lot of good work being done by several people who are conducting experiments to understand bee migration, decline and relocation. More than ever, there is a need for all of this activity to be documented and given a significant platform. This is probably the first film from India tackling this subject.”

Dr Axel Brockmann from National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) is the scientific advisor for the film. “Earlier in the year, I was invited to NCBS’ second Bangalore Meeting on Asian Bees. All the scientists were talking about bee decline and that something must be done. They all agreed that bees need to be saved but the question was ‘what’ and ‘how to begin’,” says Rajani who believes that for conservation, citizens’ involvement is a must. Rajani contends: “A campaign can only be sustained when the public are invested in it. In the Periyar tiger success story, it was the poachers turned guides who protected the forest. I believe the film will provide the opportunity for a start of a dialogue around our native wild bees.”

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 10:20:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/the-story-of-our-native-honeybees/article29373321.ece

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