Tuesday, November 13, 2007

African 'killer' bees: correction

In the first edition of 'The Barefoot Beekeeper', I described how the so-called 'Africanized' bee (or Africanized Honey Bess - AHB for short) - also popularly (though inaccurately) known as the 'killer bee', came into being in Brazil.

It turns out that my version of this story was not necessarily accurate. My fellow 'radical beekeeper', Marty Hardison, who supplied several photographs for the book and who has been inspirational to me and many other top bar beekeepers in the USA and especially Africa, gives this account of the story:

I don't consider the Brazilian bee breeder to have carelessly released the African bee. In 1956 the geneticist Warich Estevam Kerr imported some queens from Africa. A year later his bees were mysteriously released. We will probably never know the actual circumstances but Mr. Kerr was not only a scientist he was also a highly respected human rights advocate. His criticism of the mistreatment of Brazilians limited the repressive actions of the military government.
In 1964 a smear campaign was launched against Mr. Kerr in the press. The bees he was working with were called "abelhas assassins." This label which literally means assassin bees was badly translated by time Magazine in their September 24th, 1965 edition as "killer bees." The title caught the fancy of the American press and Hollywood. The bees have been given a lot of hype and have caused some problems. But they don't attack without provocation. They just defend their colony aggressively. You don't want them in your yard. But they are not as fatally dangerous as bathtubs. I have worked with several colonies of the hybrid Africanized bees down in Texas. They are not as much fun to work with as our Europeans but neither are they impossible.

Thanks for that correction, Marty - which will appear in the second edition some time early in 2008.

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