Zoo takes local action to give bees a chance
CINCINNATI (May 25, 2015) – The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is embracing bees. Honeybees, or Apis mellifera, to be specific. Honeybees do more than just pollinate flowers and make honey. They also pollinate a third of the world’s crops and are critical to our agricultural system. Food connects all of us, and without the honeybee there would not be any food. Their populations, however, are in severe decline.
Here is where the Zoo steps in. The newest group of beekeepers, made up of Zoo staff and volunteers, call themselves Pollen Nation. “We’re not just beekeepers, we’re a group of people passionate about all aspects of a healthy ecological system…down to every little detail, including the honeybee,” says Melanie Evans, one of Pollen Nation’s founders.
The Cincinnati Zoo has been dedicated to sustainability not only on grounds at its Avondale location, but also at its 600-acre off-site property, Bowyer Farm, in Warren County. Pollen Nation has established honeybee hives on the “EcOhio Farm,” a portion of Bowyer, and is carrying out the Zoo’s mission of Adventure, Conservation, Education and Community in various ways.
The hives set up at EcOhio Farm will boost the declining honeybee population and also raise awareness about conservation action that can be taken in one’s own backyard. Current hives, 18 at EcOhio and one at the Zoo, house 255,000 bees. By July, numbers should increase to 850,000 bees. Honey produced from the hives will be sold in the Zoo Shop and used in the Zoo Café next spring or summer!
“The Cincinnati Zoo is involved in many conservation projects that support animal populations in faraway places,” Sophia Cifuentes, Pollen Nation co-founder and sustainability expert at the Zoo. “This is an opportunity for the Zoo to lead local conservation efforts and to educate and excite our guests so they’ll want to become involved too.”
How can you get involved? Start by planting native and pollinator friendly vegetation such as milkweed, sunflowers, bee balm, and other wildflowers to give the bees pollination opportunities in your own backyard. Limit pesticide use in your gardens and don’t use during mid-day hours when honeybees are most active. Consider choosing natural pesticides or home-made remedies. The Zoo has also teamed up with Bee Spotter to learn more about the bees in the greater Cincinnati area. Simply snap pictures of bees that you see and submit to beespotter.org/cincinnatizoo with date and location. An expert scientist from the Entomology Department at the University of Illinois will identify the species and add it to the database, helping us to further understand bee species demographics.
The Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) team of researchers will be extracting plant DNA from the pollen in the honey and using that to understand the bee’s flower preferences over time. They will discover which habitats the bees target, and if different hives have different preferences. They’ll also be able to determine exactly what flowers the nectar in the honey came from.
Visitors can find the new honeybee hive at the Zoo across from the World of the Insect.