Kuala Lumpur (AFP)
Placing his bare hands in a swarm of thousands of bees, a Malaysian uses his fingers to gently guide some of them into a rattan basket.
Ooi Leng Chye is a member of a group that rescues 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 are rapidly declining due to habitat loss, pollution and pesticides.
The United Nations warns that 40 percent of invertebrate pollinators – especially bees and butterflies – are at risk of global extinction.
In Malaysia, green activists founded “My Bee Savior Association” to help stem the decline.
When the group is made aware of 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 parking lot of a building in Kuala Lumpur, where officials had reported a suspicious 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 said had been there for months.
Dressed in a short-sleeved shirt, pants and sandals, Ooi – whose daily job is as a software developer – was relaxed as he scooped up the bees with his hands in the basket.
“I’m not afraid of them,” the 48-year-old later told AFP as dozens of bees buzzed around his uncovered face.
“Bees only attack in self-defense. They won’t attack you for no reason – you just need to understand their behavior. “
– Protect bees for “future generations” –
On this trip, Ooi’s arms were stung about four times, but he ignored the pain as “quite mild.”
Although his arms are covered in bites from previous expeditions, he only dons a beekeeper costume when facing the most aggressive insects.
“(With a costume) you won’t be able to be so gentle picking up the bees,” he said.
After almost two hours, most of the nest is collected, with a basket of bees wrapped in cloth and netting, and the honeycomb in plastic bags.
All are taken to the house of another volunteer, where the honeycomb and the bees are placed in a makeshift wooden box, which becomes their new hive.
Volunteers in the group can handle around 10 cases of nest finds each day across the country, acting on complaints from officials and the public.
The traditional solution in Malaysia has been to call firefighters, who are known to set nests and their inhabitants on fire to get rid of them.
Part of My Bee Savior Association’s job is to try to convince official bodies such as firefighters to treat bees differently, group chairman Norowi Hamid said.
Norowi helped put the group together after the mid-2000s, when many colonies in the United States and Europe were wiped out by a mysterious plague called “colony collapse disorder.”
He said convincing Malaysians not to be afraid of them remains a difficult task.
But he added that “if we don’t manage the bees properly, then maybe one day (they) won’t be around.”
“Then our future generations will curse us. “
© 2021 AFP