If you have ever lived in a farm or rural area, then you must already be pretty familiar with bees. I should know; I was raised alongside my siblings in rural Nigeria and in all our tree-climbing and bush-roaming for both fruits and fun, we were always wary of bees and their hives. I’ve lived in the city for some years now, but I recently spent some time on a bee farm and was pleasantly reminded of the reason for my wariness as a kid. In my childhood, my friend and I were furiously pursued and stung by an entire hive because a hand went the wrong way in the process of our honey-extraction. Happens right?
Now not everyone has had as close an encounter as I have but even if you’ve lived in the city your whole life, you will at least have heard some stories about bees and their famous stings. You don’t need to see one to know of their existence. They are buzzing around somewhere, even if we can’t say for sure where; and if your knowledge of their species is slightly beyond average, you’d know something of the medicinal qualities of their honey. Unfortunately though, this is the extent of the knowledge of bees in some of the most enlightened of human circles.
In recent times though, bees have taken on a new prominence. There have been renewed headlines and warnings about the near extinction of bee colonies; even our celebrities have taken to discussing publicly about them. After the Notre-Dame de Paris fire for instance, one of the major issues raised bordered on the safety of the bee hives on the roof of the structure; so that when the survival of the hive was announced, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. Legendary actor Morgan Freeman announced that he was going to convert his 120-acre ranch into a bee sanctuary, and for weeks on end, his announcement remained the subject of countless tweets.
If I was a betting man, I’d bet you’re wondering what all this noise about bees is about, and wondering why you should even care.
Let me help you out on this one. It turns out that bees are dying. The massive decline in bee population has been attributed to what is referred to as the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Putting it very simply, the disorder essentially makes the bees abandon their hives and disappear. According to the Bees Under Siege report by WWF, in the UK, 17 species were regionally extinct, 25 were under threat and 31 others are of conservation concern. The results of another survey reveals that in the US, over the past winter, beekeepers lost over 40% of colonies overall. This is the highest recorded winter loss of bees in the 13-year history of the survey.
Now to the even scarier part; scientists aren’t exactly sure why this is happening. Many scientists believe CCD is caused by neonicotinoids which are found in certain insecticides which are used in crop production. Others think the loss was brought on by certain natural infections. Some figure it’s from a reduction in general food supply and a lot more people believe that this unfortunate development is as a result of climate change and rising temperatures. The most likely truth is probably a combination of all these factors and causes.
So what’s the big deal about the death of “a few insects”? Well, the answer is that the wellbeing of our planet is really and truly going to be at stake if all our bees vanish. If you remember the basics of high school biology, you’d know that flowers and plants are pollinated by insects. And bees just so happens to contribute the most to the entire pollination process. Bees are responsible for the pollination of over 90 commercially cultivated crops, including apples, cherries, cauliflower, macadamia nuts and cashews just to name a few.
If the bees die out, the effect on the planet would be nothing short of catastrophic. The ecosystem as we know it would most likely collapse since the pollination of flowers is at the foundation of our food system and of course some of our favorite foods would disappear. In addition, the annual financial contribution of bee pollination services to the global economy is an estimated $577 billion. The impact of their loss would be both nutritional and financial as well. And personally, I think our planet has quite enough problems as it is.
While scientists work frantically to figure out a way to avert bee extinction, governments, institutions and corporations have taken up the challenge of doing more to protect the bees. In London, authorities are constructing a seven-mile bee corridor of wildflowers which is expected to boost the bee population. In Sweden, McDonalds has built a miniature to scale restaurant for bees. Yep, you read that right. The structure, called the McHive is a fully functional hive.
And even though most of us don’t own farms and ranches to be turned into bee sanctuaries, each of us have a role to play in protecting this species by creating and increase public awareness of the issue. Put differently, educate yourself and educate others. There are many online resources that provide a good guide on how we can support the bees and save our ecosystem. Some readily available activities include letting your garden run a little on the wild side to provide nourishment for the bees, or leaving out more water in your gardens to provide the bees with the hydration they need as our climate increasingly becomes hotter.
Whatever means you choose to help save the bees and the environment, there are no better role models than the bees themselves.
Working together, tirelessly building and supporting one another in all the ways they can.
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