'Serial bee killer' now a saviour

'Serial bee killer' now a saviour
Carl Baptista, 39,(left) and Elric Tan, 31,(right) are volunteers of Pollen Nation at a newly set up apiary in Kranji.

He has killed bees, studied them, and been stung by them - more than a hundred times.

After two decades in the pest control business, Mr Carl Baptista, 39, knows bees well.

At the start of the year, the self-confessed former "serial bee killer" co-founded Pollen Nation, a not-for-profit organisation made up of eight volunteers who help rehouse native bees instead of exterminating them.

"When someone spots a beehive, there are two ways of removing the bees.

One way is to call in pest control and kill them using pesticides.

The other is to call us, and we will relocate the bees to an environment where they will be appreciated," said Mr Baptista, who has been stung about 120 times during hive removals.

In the last three weeks, the group has relocated several bee hives from trees in commercial and residential properties.

The honey bees that do not have stings, and their honeycombs, are carefully removed from their hives using a bee vacuum, and taken to the Kranji countryside, where they are housed in urban apiaries.

Solitary bees, or non-honey bees, particularly bees that sting, are placed in forested areas, away from the public.

"If people are educated on the different species of bees here, they will know that not all bees sting," said Mr Baptista, who is still in the pest control business.

He added that bee attacks are rare.

Pollen Nation charges between $100 and $800 for the beehive removal service, depending on the equipment required.

The money is used to pay for the cost of transport and equipment, as well as workshops to raise awareness about the importance of bees.

Earlier this month, the group met farmers in the Kranji countryside, most of whom are keen to adopt bee hives.

The area in north-west Singapore is home to vegetable and livestock farms, among others.

Organic farm Bollywood Veggies is one of those that has adopted apiaries to house relocated bees.

Its owner, Mrs Ivy Singh-Lim, 65, said: "In Singapore, there is a knee-jerk reaction to kill everything that may be considered a pest.

Bees are important to the ecosystem and not all of them are harmful."

She has allowed Pollen Nation to set up bee yards in a part of her farm where few people usually go.

Even so, she has put up appropriate warning signs for visitors.

In the coming weeks, Pollen Nation will hold discussions with government agencies and talks in schools, in the hope that more people will get to know about the different bee species.

The group was formed last month after a few like-minded individuals, ranging from students to professionals who work with insects, felt the need to raise awareness of the role of bees in the pollination process.

Said Mr Baptista: "It isn't just about saving the bees but more about the lack of pollination if there are no bees left.

Bees need flowers and flowers need bees."

Another group, Edible Garden City, which encourages people to grow their own food at under-utilised spaces such as rooftops and sidewalks, provided a similar beehive removal service for the past year.

It has stopped providing this service but still houses bees at its food gardens in the western and central parts of Singapore.

"We have been doing bee relocation for over a year and we are getting more inquiries," said Edible Garden City's "urban farmer", Mr Thomas Lim, 31.

"It is a good time for Pollen Nation to come in to take over because they have the expertise in dealing with insects."

He added that the rehousing of bees is not without its challenges.

"Even when we go in with the good intention of relocating them, the bees do not know that and think we want to attack them.

They get defensive, which makes the job more difficult."

There are over 90 species of bees in Singapore, with about a dozen of these being honey bees.

Most of these bee species pose no risk at all, said Professor John Ascher from the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore.

He added that giant honey bees, one of the four species of honey bees with stings found in Singapore, are the ones commonly responsible for bee attacks here.

"Giant honey bees usually nest in high trees and are not so accessible to people," said Prof Ascher. "They become aggressive only when their nest is disturbed."

calyang@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 25, 2015.
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