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Friday, 20 September 2013

How can honeybees help save cheetahs?

Native African honeybees
Cheetah Conservation Fund realises that if we want to save cheetahs, we have to care about the whole planet. That’s why we are inspired to operate our Centre as sustainably as possible. The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainability as “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Here at CCF, we understand that this means carefully managing natural resources with a deep respect for the natural world.
Staff gardener Petrus Johannes, volunteer Jenna Brager, and Chief Ecologist Matti Nghikembua install the first beehive in CCF's new apiary
Directorate of Forestry officers bring training and supplies to CCF
The Directorate of Forestry here in Namibia has a programme to help farmers set up beehives. We collaborated with local Forestry officers to begin CCF’s apiary. Forestry officers visited CCF to give beginning bee-keeping training, helped us acquire equipment, and brought us a live feral colony of bees! A nearby farmer had an unwanted wild hive living in a tyre in his garage. Forestry officers delivered the bees in the tyre to CCF at night. Because these bees were too established to be moved out of their tire home without causing immense damage, we’ve retrofitted the tyre for better bee health and they will remain an unmanaged feral hive. CCF plans to catch swarms of bees from this feral colony during the flower blooming season to establish additional colonies and grow the apiary.
CCF's first honeybees arrive as a feral colony in a tyre
Paul Visser (above right), CCF's farms manager, built in a nice bottom board, entrance, inner cover, and outer cover to improve the tire as a home
Speaking of swarms, one landed on this low branch at CCF just a few days after we installed the apiary. “If you build it, they will come...”

Bee swarm at CCF
Aspiring bee-keepers about to do their first swarm capture
Capturing the swarm
Preparing to install the swarm at the apiary
Unfortunately, this docile swarm flew away as soon as we installed them into the new hive boxes. But we knew that more swarms would be on their way. We took a field trip to the neighbouring town of Otavi to meet fellow bee-keeper Nicolene and her family. We did several hive inspections for CCF’s aspiring bee-keepers to learn more about what to look for in a healthy beehive. In the process, we learned that Namibian swarms of bees have a habit of leaving their hive boxes. Nicolene taught us a great trick for getting them to stay. We’ll try this next time.
Bee-keeping field trip to visit Nicolene's apiary in Otavi - she has 10 hives in her yard
Amazingly, shortly after this first swarm departed another swarm arrived and we didn’t even have to capture them. They chose to fly into the empty hive boxes we have set up in the apiary and make a new home. These bees are doing a great job of getting established and seem happy to stay. 

Bee-keeping protective gear and tools
Three full hive set-ups
The photos above show the gear and tools bought by funds from generous donors – protective suits, veils, gloves, boots, bee brushes, hive tools, and a smoker. With matching funds from the Namibian Directorate of Forestry, we were able to double this amount of protective gear and now have total of four full suits. Also shown above, generous donations have allowed us to acquire enough equipment to set up three large colonies of bees, including boxes with frames, bottom boards, inner covers, and outer covers.

We’ve heard a lot about African honeybees being very aggressive so everyone was a bit concerned. What will be the personality of our bees? Lucky for us, these bees have been extremely friendly. Another concern is honeybee predators – mainly honey badgers and baboons, both of which can be aggressive at times. This is why we chose an area that is completely fenced in from floor to ceiling and put the hive on a bench several feet off the ground.

CCF intends to build up the apiary to teach more aspects of sustainability to visitors and local farmers, and to produce honey for food and added income.

Honeybee pollinating a sunflower in CCF''s garden
As we expand on the Centre’s sustainability, it important to remember that everything is connected. In addition to growing our apiary, we are expanding our organic vegetable garden, cultivating fruit trees, diligently recycling, and looking into rainwater harvesting and grey water reuse. These small acts have big impacts on the cheetah – local food production and diversified income streams help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect the climate, save water for the wildlife, and restore cheetah habitat. We hope you’ll join us in reducing our ecological footprints.

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