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About Ujubee

(‘Uju’ is the Zulu word for ‘honey’):

The small team of Ujubee researches the Cape honeybee in pristine fynbos. Ujubee is also involved in the European BEEtree project where data is fed from wild nests found in tree cavities in Noordhoek to the HOBOS team under the guidance of Professor Jürgen Tautz at the University of Würzburg for analysis and comparison with their wild bee project. In collaboration with Jürgen Tautz, one of the foremost behavioural bee biologists in the world, Ujubee has published joint papers on wild honeybees. A joint publication was featured in The Science of Nature – Naturwissenschaften, April 2017 104:29, and the VBIO. Ujubee is able to assist other countries with how to go about researching wild bees because of their specialised focus in this area and their experience. Ujubee also monitors wild bees in urban areas, particularly in Noordhoek where they have a log hive project on the Noordhoek Common, setting up log hives as possible nesting sites, but also ascertaining the abundance of wild nests, their geographic distribution, how often these colonies breed and the relationship of bees to the world around them. Included in this is a solitary and semi-social bee species’ count on the Common. In Simon’s Town Ujubee is establishing a Bee Garden which they use as an educational tool to highlight important indigenous bee-friendly plants and habitats that solitary bees need in our urban gardens. The bee garden project also functions as a corridor from the town back up onto the mountain to assist in the re-introduction of bee species that are lost after fires in the area.

OUR KEY OBJECTIVES:

  1. Ujubee is committed to raising awareness of the importance of safeguarding indigenous bees living in the wild and to saving them for future generations.
  2. Ujubee will create a unique network of bee conservation projects that brings collective credibility and integrity to the conservation of bees.
  3. Ujubee will raise the profile of bees, demonstrating the capacity of working collaboratively globally to act together as one to ensure bee conservation.
  4. Ujubee will use the network to facilitate knowledge exchange, share best practice and create new, collaborative initiatives for bee conservation.
  5. Ujubee will create a physical and lasting legacy of bee conservation leadership.

The True Bee-keeper

It is a misconception that honeybees need beekeepers in order to save them. As humans we have a natural inclination to want to save things. But bees have been around for millions of years and were thriving and evolving without us. Their adaptations to different climates, geology, flowers, altitudes, ecosystems, predators, even weather (like wind!) is remarkable. To save our bees we need to let them be free to bee. We need to stop wanting to control or manage every aspect of being a bee, which inevitably changes their natural behaviour. Bees don’t need us to box them in hives or determine cell size and shape of comb through frames and foundation wax; bees don’t need us to medicate them and in so doing, kill all healthy and symbiotic microfauna living in the leaf litter and nest debris that can be beneficial in the fight against disease and Varroa mite, and at the same time kill off bees’ natural ability to develop coping mechanisms. Bees don’t need us to take and eat their honey, which really is their food and therefore their energy. In wild nests one does not find vast quantities of honey. There is always just as much honey stored as the bees may require to tide over bad weather days or drought so that they can continue all their colony functions, like caring for their brood, producing wax and bee milk or royal jelly, cleaning cells for the queen to lay her eggs, keeping the nest temperature and humidity constant…. If every beekeeper could turn their love of bees or wonderment at bees (and this is really what one should have if you are keeping bees) to watching bees do what they do naturally, then bees worldwide would be far better off and have the capacity to survive, if they are strong and healthy. The word ‘beekeeper’ needs redefining as those who are ensuring that there are swathes of flowering plants in our gardens, and tracts of wild flowers on agricultural land, and interconnected biomes of natural vegetation, not only providing forage and a natural pollination of orchards and agricultural crops for our consumption, but also habitat for all species of wild bees (and other pollinators). These are the true bee-keepers and in so doing, the bees will keep us and all future generations to come. Our focus should not be on maximising agricultural land for greater areas of food production and less peripheral wild pollinator forage spaces, but rather on vast spaces of wildness and a better and more abundant crop on existing agricultural land due to an abundance of varied and specialist pollinators.

Bees and Biodiversity In South Africa

South Africa is in a very unique situation in that roughly 80% of our honeybees  still live in the wild, unlike Europe where most of the bees are hived (Germany has 99.9% of all their bees living in hives and all the bees are managed and medicated. This means that Germany has lost their pure strains of wild bees). Having most of our bees living in the wild means that SA has a healthy gene pool of wild bees. Our bees need to be protected in their wild habitats to ensure that this gene pool is not weakened in any way. Bees are a keystone species and are vital for biodiversity. In the Cape we have the smallest and most diverse floral kingdom in the world. (The fynbos region covers less than 6% of SA.) This floral kingdom is primarily pollinated by bees. Honeybees and other species of bees pollinate 85% of the fynbos. It is vital that we protect bees in pristine areas so that biodiversity can survive.

How do we go about doing this?

From a biodiversity conservation point of view

  • First and foremost, the Cape honeybee is unique among all the honeybee (Apis mellifera) subspecies, and species (other Apis species) in the world, in that the workers are parthenogenetic (this means that they are able to “clone” themselves and therefore they are able to re-queen a colony if they lose their queen). Our nature reserves and national parks are areas where bees can live without being “contaminated” by hybridised farmed bees. The only place that pure Cape honeybees are guaranteed to exist is in the Cape Point Nature Reserve and in other remote areas. Therefore, this Reserve conserves unique South African biodiversity: (1) no other bees should be allowed to be introduced into this Park or any other conservation area, (2) any hives already introduced into conservation areas should be removed.
  • Researching the bees in these pristine areas is crucial for our understanding of biodiversity and the role bees play in this unique floral kingdom  (Ujubee has been working in this reserve and other areas for the past 5 years, researching the ecology of the Cape honeybee and other bee species).
  • Migratory pollination, i.e., moving honeybees around the country for pollinating crops that flower at different times of the year, is practised extensively in South Africa and is the principal occupation of bee farmers. This bee-keeping practice has resulted in local strains of bees, i.e., those from different parts of the country, being interbred and consequently, to a large extent, our local strains (i.e., genetic diversity) are lost. Those in conservation areas are therefore invaluable for biodiversity (genetic diversity) conservation. As mentioned above, this is particularly important where pure strains of Cape honeybees exist, i.e., the Cape Point Nature Reserve. Improving policies around safeguarding conservation areas (bee breeding zones, genetic stock) is required.
  • When honeybees are present in large numbers they drive other bees away from floral resources. Therefore, beekeeping may result in the demise of other bee species if the number of individuals is increased. This is because honeybees are not good pollinators of all plants – robbing some of nectar and not pollinating them. This can result in the extinction of some bee species and some monolectic plant species (plants with one or a few closely related pollinator species). Policies are needed here to ensure that we safeguard the semi-social and solitary bee populations and the plants that they pollinate.
  • Migratory pollination has spread bee diseases around the country, and some of these are notifiable diseases according to international animal disease laws. A common practice in SA is that conservation areas are used by bee farmers to “rest” their bees after the pollination season. This can also mean that some farmers “rest” large numbers of colonies in hives right on the boundaries of conservation areas, thus introducing bees into national parks/conservation areas, threatening the health of the wild colonies and putting all other pollinators under pressure.  When bee hives are kept in close proximity, as in an apiary, the risk of contamination is greater.  Policies need to be developed to ensure that the wild bees remain healthy.
  • As honeybees are the only managed pollinator in South Africa, exposing our protected wild populations to loss of genetic diversity and introduced bee diseases would threaten food security in South Africa (one-third of all the food we eat requires a pollinator, and these are our most nutritious foods) and biodiversity.
  • Risking our biodiversity to poorly conceived policies is something we cannot continue to do.

Talk Series: THE WILD BEES OF NOORDHOEK

The 2nd in this Simon’s Town Museum Talk Series.
In this presentation we will look at some of the research we have been doing in Noordhoek over a four year period. We will focus on one very special nest and discuss the fascinating daily goings on within this wild colony: the villains, who they are and how the bees cope with them; how the wild bees deal with multiple challenges; why this nest is so special and what we can learn from it. Once again we have wonderful footage to share with you.

This event is a fundraiser to help raise funds to get Ujubee to The Netherlands where they have been invited to participate and present at the first Wild Bee Conference in Amsterdam, hosted by the Natural Beekeeping Trust UK, BEETIME and Smart Beeing from 31 August – 02 September 2018.

Venue: Simon’s Town Museum
Address: Court Road, Simon’s Town, 7995
Date: 29 March 2018
Time: 5.30pm for 6pm
Entrance fee: R50 or a donation

ARE OUR BEES GOING UP IN SMOKE?

Fire is an integral part of fynbos ecology. The Cape honeybee is an integral part of fynbos ecology and biodiversity. Bees being social insects, find a nesting site, build comb, fly out in search of forage and grow their colony. But what happens in the face of fire? Does our Cape honeybee have the intelligence to survive these fast, hot fynbos burns?

Join us for a presentation on wild bee research done by Ujubee who are based in Simon’s Town in the heart of pristine, fynbos ecology. Venture with them into their groundbreaking observations at Cape Point Nature Reserve, looking at the recent fires and the impact these have on the Cape honeybee.

This event is a fundraiser to help raise funds to get Ujubee to The Netherlands where they have been invited to participate and present, at the first Wild Bee Conference in Amsterdam, hosted by the Natural Beekeeping Trust UK, from 31August – 02September 2018.

Venue: Simon’s Town Museum
Date: 01 March 2018
Time: 5.30pm for 6pm
Entrance fee: R50 or a larger donation

BEE LINE Exhibition is now open!

WILD SOUNDS
On Wednesday evening, 31 May at 6pm, Jenny Cullinan of Ujubee will present the final of 4 short slide presentations, titled WILD SOUNDS. The venue is 196 Victoria, Woodstock, Cape Town. The discussion should last about an hour and looks at a variety of sounds from wild nests.

For those wishing to see the BEE LINE exhibition, 196 Victoria will be open Monday – Friday from 9AM-4PM. The exhibition closes on 31 May 2017.

Wild Bee Clip, Cape Peninsula, South Africa… 

 

The Need for Research

There are 6 floral kingdoms on earth. The Cape fynbos is the smallest, but the richest floral kingdom in the world. This floral kingdom is kept alive by its pollinators. Apis mellifera capensis (Cape honeybee) pollinates more than 85% of the fynbos flowers. Without these bees we would lose this floral kingdom. Bees keep it together. They ensure the bio-diversity of the world around us. We have to understand how these bees have adapted to this amazing floral kingdom and what we can do to keep them safe. Bees worldwide are dying at the moment and if A. m. capensis were to die we would lose this race of bee that has evolved over time to survive in this harsh bee environment. Researching them is of great value to ensuring the longevity of our natural world.

wild nest 8   wild nest 1

We spend many hours with wild bees watching everything they do. We hope to really learn their way of life by observing them as closely as possible in their natural world. Only when one knows what is normal, can one see the extraordinary. Our main aim is to see first hand how important these bees are to the Table Mountain National Park Cape of Good Hope Section, look for patterns and hopefully they will reveal some interesting secrets to us.

Our research project has been mostly self-funded for the past four years and as we move into our fifth year of research we would love support from all who are equally fascinated by bees and feel that wild bees have the right to live in wild spaces, in their natural habitats and without the interference from people wanting to “commodotise” them for some personal or commercial gain. We hope to establish further sanctuaries protecting wild bees (honeybees, solitary and sub-social bees) in their unique biomes throughout South Africa and thus safe-guarding their diversity and gene-pool for the future.

We are bee conservationists and we are passionate about our work. In addition to our blog, we have an ujubee facebook page, which is a diary of our work over the past years and beyond.

wild nest 7
wild nest 9   wild nest 2   wild nest 4   wild nest 3   wild nest 5   wild nest 6   emergence   wild nest