After pigs and cattle, bees are the most important livestock in agriculture. Since their global decline in recent decades, they have become a warning symbolic animal of the threat human activity poses to biodiversity. As important pollinators, bees are essential for the reproduction of many wild and cultivated plants and thus for the food supply of our entire planet! Visitors can learn more about the furry insects by heading to the apiary in the zoo’s Mühlendorf village and meeting our expert beekeeper. A world without bees is unthinkable. Their importance as pollinators means that they provide the backbone for ensuring food security for people around the world. A remarkable 75 percent of global food crops depend on bees for pollination. The insects also play a vital role for the medical industry: more than 50,000 plant species are used in the production of drugs and medicines. However, the honey bee and in particular many wild bee species are now threatened with extinction.
Biodiversity threatened by decline in bees
If bees were to disappear from the face of the Earth, humans would have just four years left to live. What sounds like a drastic scenario is in fact not fiction but reality. Bee populations around the world are currently declining drastically, including in Germany. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies 300 to 560 wild bee species as endangered due to the lack of habitat. Their numbers are declining not only due to disappearing nesting possibilities - factors such as the rise in monoculture farming, the use of toxic pesticides and a lack of flowering meadows and shrubs endanger their food supply.
Hellabrunn Zoo supports buzzing pollinators
The protection of wild bees and other insects is a top priority for Mayor and Chairwoman of the Supervisory Board Verena Dietl: “The City of Munich’s biodiversity strategy includes an extensive package of measures to help conserve wild bees and many other pollinating insects. By creating insect-friendly open spaces, green roof areas and wildflower meadows, we have taken advantage of the many options available, which have been successfully implemented at numerous different locations.”
Hellabrunn zoo is actively involved in raising awareness of the endangerment of the popular insect and has two bee colonies in the Mühlendorf village, which are cared for by a specialist beekeeper from the Greater Munich Beekeeping Association e.V. The current fluctuating weather conditions are causing problems for the insects as bees find it difficult to cope with constant fluctuations between cold, warm, dry and wet. In order to ensure the colonies are well cared for, the beekeeper must also treat the hives to protect them from damage caused by the Varroa mite. The pest is considered the main reason for the death of an entire bee colony. Bees usually fly about three to five kilometres a day. During these flights, they collect nectar and pollen and also pollinate crops and meadow plants. To learn more about the Hellabrunn Zoo’s beekeeper work visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoRpRHaxFLQ.
Zoo director Rasem Baban considers the protection of bees an important part of Hellabrunn‘s mission for species, nature and environmental conservation: "It is clear to us that the flora and fauna would no longer function without wild bees. We would therefore like to make our visitors aware of the importance of protecting wild bees. Unfortunately, many species are finding it increasingly difficult to survive without assistance. Up to 210 wild bee species have been counted in Greater Munich area alone. To give you an idea of the role bees play in our everyday life, if you removed all the items bees helped create from the supermarket shelves, you would have to remove 60 percent of all items.”
The Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) and the Association of Zoological Gardens (VdZ) have joined forces to protect the diligent insects. This week they signed an agreement to provide more protection and education. The measures have been implemented because bees are now considered endangered and dying species that are disappearing from the earth every day. If the bee or insect populations decline, the plant species that are dependent on the pollinating insects will then disappear. At the end of this event chain are humans, who will be affected due to a lack of food.