Conservation in action: sweet success from humble beginnings
The SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SA Hunters) has embarked on a conservation initiative that proved to be a valuable win-win project for bees and for people. In 2020, the Pretoria-East Branch of SA Hunters decided to add the conservation of pollinators to their other conservation initiatives. The Branch acquired 15 beehives from the Northern Beekeeping Association (NBA) and donated them to four novice beekeepers in Gauteng and Northwest.
With this initiative, the bees are being conserved and protected for their essential function in pollinating plants in natural ecosystems, and for agricultural crops that are used for human consumption and animal feed. Simultaneously, the beekeepers earn a livelihood through harvesting and selling some of the honey.
The NBA trained the novice beekeepers to sustainably manage the hives, catch or remove swarms from unwanted locations to establish new hives, and to harvest the honey responsibly. In less than two years, the four beekeepers that formed part of phase one of this initiative, expanded the initial 15 hives to over seventy managed hives.
Leon Venter of Mooinooi in Northwest, started off with four hives but was keen to expand his apiary. After completing a bee removal course, he turned his hobby into a business by removing unwanted swarms where it resulted in human-wildlife conflict. Leon relocates these swarms to empty hives that he manages in support of bee populations whilst earning a sustainable income. Leon’s apiary has grown to 45 hives.
Global warming threatens bees
Lizanne Nel, conservation manager at SA Hunters warns that bee species are especially vulnerable to extinction as a result of climate change, disease, use of poisons and habitat destruction. She highlights that several scientific reports warn about alarming global declines in bees. There are about 20,000 bee species in the world, with South Africa being recognised globally as a bee diversity hotspot with nearly a 1,000 bee species, many of which are endemic to the Fynbos and Succulent Karoo biomes. However, 70% of South Africa has been poorly surveyed for bees, with no records on the status of bees in large parts of the country.
According to Lizanne, the conservation of honeybees as key pollinators is essential for natural ecosystem functioning, as well as agricultural economics. Bees pollinate a wide variety of crops with significant economic implications. Almonds, for example, are almost entirely dependent upon bees for pollination. Without honeybees, the harvest of blueberries, squash, watermelon, and other fruits would also be greatly reduced, driving up prices and disrupting the marketplace.
Dieter Labuschagne, the chairman of the Pretoria East Branch of SA Hunters, said they wanted to expand their conservation initiatives. Considering the threats facing bee populations, this initiative proved to be the right choice. They partnered with NBA to ensure that they acquire the relevant expertise to assist prospective beekeepers in rescuing unwanted swarms and managing their hives in a responsible manner. In less than two years, the initiative has shown positive growth, albeit not without challenges to some of the new beekeepers for whom this venture was a steep learning curve.
Riekie van der Berg, one of the beekeepers in this initiative, started looking after bees when a swarm moved into an owl box in the garden. She had five hives of her own when she heard about the SA Hunters initiative to enable beekeepers. She also donated a few of her own hives to help another beekeeper to get started.
Riekie is looking after 17 hives and wants to increase her apiary to 20 hives. “As a pensioner, 20 hives are just enough to keep as a hobby and to save some bees. I love my bees and this amazing hobby more than ever!” she said. Riekie also markets the SA Hunters initiative on the honey she harvests and sells.
This initiative is not only a good news story for bees. It gave hope to people that lost their jobs and were struggling financially during the 2020/21 Covid pandemic. Through the donated hives from SA Hunters and the support from NBA, some of the new beekeepers managed to generate an income that carried them through very difficult times. Together with the other novice beekeepers, this initiative is a success story about saving bees and improving the livelihoods of the people that care for them.
A percentage of the income from the bee project is re-invested to grow this initiative. Anyone that wants to participate in this initiative or donate funds to support the project, can contact the Pretoria East Branch of SA Hunters and Game Conservation at email@example.com or Aidan.firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Theo Potgieter on 0713234253