Women on a mission to save Mexico City’s bees

MEXICO CITY (AP) — “Knife,” Adriana Velíz says with the concentration of a brain surgeon.

Wrapped in a white bee costume, she lies on the ground in one of Mexico City’s busiest neighborhoods. Taking the knife, she opens the side of a lamp post and flashes a glowing red lantern on a buzzing hive of bees.

Velíz is on a mission to save the approximately 20,000 bees inside.

She leads a group of mostly women who work hive by hive to move the bees that would be exterminated if they remained in Mexico’s overcrowded capital.

The group, Abeja Negra SOS, was born in 2018 when Velíz – a veterinarian working for the city government at the time – noticed that when authorities received calls about beehives, the automatic response was to exterminate the bees. .

She and other colleagues began looking for an alternative.

“We are doing these rescues because it is a species that is in danger of extinction,” said Velíz, who works for Abeja Negra SOS. “We are an alternative so that the rescue teams do not exterminate them. We give them a second chance. »

Globally, bee populations have been decimated in recent decades. It is estimated that the United States alone has lost about 25% of its bees over the past 40 years. Earlier this year, beekeepers in southern Mexico cried the “massacre” millions of bees by pesticides.

The decline is often blamed on human causes: the use of harmful chemicals, the destruction of natural habitats and climate change. Scientists and world leaders warn that declining bee populations could have a wide range of adverse ripple effects.

In 2019, the United Nations sounded the alarm that the loss of bees “poses a serious threat” to global food security. Others, like Adriana Correa Benítez, professor of bee research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the loss of bees could make it harder for Mexico to mitigate climate change.

“They don’t just pollinate what we eat,” she said. “They also pollinate native plants that regulate the whole ecosystem. And now with climate change, reforestation is so important and (bee pollination) really influences that. »

Over the past five years, the group has scoured the sprawling city of 9 million, rescuing colonies of bees from trees, gutters and streetlights. They moved around 510 hives, with an average size of around 80,000 bees.

Late on a recent Thursday evening, Velíz peers into the beehive the size of a small melon housed inside the lamppost.

She gently slices a knife along the side of the hive, letting out a soft “shh”, as if to calm a child. Knife dripping with honey, she pulls out the honeycomb and places it in a square wooden frame, which she slips into a wooden box.

Tonight they are lucky, she said. It’s a small colony and it’s quiet, says Velíz, calling the hive “hippie bees”.

As they go, they search for the queen, a key element in rehabilitating the bees and ensuring the smooth relocation of the colony.

“Do you hear that? That means we have the queen,” she says, tilting her ear to the box where the chaotic buzzing of the bees turns into a purr.

Since many bees in Mexico come from African roots, they can be more aggressive than the average bee. This can create problems in large cities, where residents often associate insects more with danger than with their environmental importance.

Velíz said the group’s dozen or so beekeepers are mostly women.

“We tried to work with men, but they seem to like the danger,” Velíz said. “We started to see that it wasn’t very viable, so we started hiring only women. We realized that we could do exactly the same as them, and often even better.

Once a hive is safely stored inside the box, the group takes the bees to the rural outskirts of town, where they can recuperate and grow stronger. Later, they donate the bees to local beekeepers or release them into the wild.

The team ran into hurdles as they charge just over $300 to remove a hive, mostly to cover logistical costs. For many in the city, it’s even easier to call the fire department to exterminate the bees for free.

Yet, as the project grew, Abeja Negra SOS also generated buzz, inspiring other groups to emerge and start doing the same work.

“With what we are doing, we may not be changing the world, but we are at least changing the situation in our city,” Velíz said.


Associated Press reporter Fernanda Pesce contributed to this report.

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