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One Million South African Honey Bees Suddenly Die

December 08, 2018

Honey Bees

Down in Cape Town, South Africa, a suspected poisoning took place in a wine-making area of the region, and this incident led to roughly one million honeybees dying. According to Brendan Ashley-Cooper, a beekeeper and farmer, an insecticide the wine farmers often use called Fipronil was believed to have caused the bees on his land to die. Other beekeepers in the Cape Town area have been affected as well, but it’s still not completely clear how many bees died in total, per Ashley-Cooper. It wouldn’t be surprising if the number was greater than a million, as Fipronil caused millions of bee deaths in Europe as well.

Some experts say that Fipronil is incredibly toxic to bees and other insects, and it’s the reason the insecticide was banned in 2013 in Europe. Per Ashley-Cooper, who is also the Western Cape Bee Industry Association’s vice chairman, roughly 100 of his hives—or 40 percent of those in affected areas—were hit by the insecticide, with Ashley-Cooper estimating between one and 1.5 million honey bees were killed as a result. While it’s likely the number of bees lost by Ashley-Cooper won’t affect the country’s overall bee population, it’s not entirely clear how many honey bees South Africa has or how many other hives were affected by the insecticide.

During the last year, Fipronil was at the center of a European egg scandal, where eggs were pulled from the shelves by the millions in over one dozen countries in Europe, including the United Kingdom, after the eggs were discovered to be contaminated by the insecticide. Fipronil is used typically for getting rid of lice, ticks, and fleas, but the EU banned it for animals that are raised for our consumption, including chickens. Cape Town wine farmers have long used Fipronil for controlling ants, but this is the first instance of the insecticide being suspected as the chief cause behind honey bee deaths.

Further tests are being performed to confirm if the insecticide was the cause, and both the government and local wine farmers are working with beekeepers to address the problem. Also, it seems that wild hives in the Cape Town area were affected in addition to managed hives like those run by Ashley-Cooper, with the veteran beekeeper adding, "A week ago we started getting calls that beekeepers were finding dead bees in front of their hives." He also stated these bee deaths would impact honey production only slightly, and that "some uncles and aunties will have to go without honey this Christmas.”

Photo By perutskyy

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