Bees? How are you?

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Who are the bees?

They probably appeared 100 000 years ago with the first flowers. Actually we know that there are more than 20 000 species in the world and 2500 in Europe.

Most of the time we focus our attention in the domestic bees because we only know this way to deal with them: to make them PRODUCE HONEY. Indeed, did you know that the majority of the bees do not produce it? They are wild, and one part live alone, or at least are independent.

All bees are vegetarians and browsers insect. That means they fly from flower to flower in search of food like nectar, Propolis, pollen and honeydew. By the same occasion bees ensures the pollination, which means the transfer of pollen to plant reproduction. Their role is essential: 84% of the cultivated plants in Europe depend of the pollination by the bees. Can we imagine a world without those precious insects for the planet…?

A worrying situation!

In many places in the World a lot of bees are disappearing. For example in United States from 1942 there have been a loss of around 45 % in the bee hives. What can produce these disappearing?

Several causes strike the bees and their Immune system, and added all together it creates their vanishing. Out the beehive, the extension of monoculture is limiting the diet of bees and the pesticides are finally recognized as a cause of the damage in their nervous system, which can be deadly.

Then, during the pollination, the bees are eating those poisons and 2 scenarios are possible: the pesticides damage the nervous system and bees die because are unable to orientate anymore. Or they carry it until the beehive where all the colony can be affected. What is the best up to you?

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If you want to act in anyway, here you can sign this petition to ban pesticides.

About the beehive itself, the rectangular one used for the production of honey doesn´t allow efficient airflow in the corners, which can cause mold installation, as well as parasites and virus: then, the thermal regulation by bees is more difficult and condition of life worse. On the other hand some beekeepers use sugar to feed their bees, to make them produce more honey, limiting once again their diet.

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What will happen if the bees continue disappearing? The bees are the most important pollinators and many plants depend on them. Their vanishing endanger the survival of plants biodiversity and many cultures around the world.

We watched the documentary “Vanishing of the bees” and discovered with terror that there are already several clues: in USA where they import bees by plane from Australia to pollinate monoculture or in China or some people are paying to pollinate by hands because there are not enough bees anymore… we are really loosing the bees right now on the Earth, and before to cry on our empty lands, we should wake up and realize how critical is the situation.

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How we can act?

About bee hive itself, we can build them in round shape, like in nature, instead of in squared shape. Also, we shouldn’t feed them with sugar but with healthy and various kinds of food. That means modifying their and our environment: avoid monocultures and promote alternative cultures which include many melliferous Flowers, Agroforestry, permaculture, ecological agriculture, traditional cultures… the solutions are multiple, and can start in our own garden!

Albert Einstein once said : “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man”.

Alice, Marco, Wendy and Kim

Wolves!

Last week the Kuterevo volunteers tried to learn more about wolfs, their biology and their functions in the wild. Marco and Alice prepared a presentation about wolfs in Spain and France. To discover more about wolfs we also watched a documentary about a Croatian man who took care of a wolf cub, and another one which was about relationships between wolf packs and other animals in Yellow Stone National Park in the United States.

We learned some interesting facts about wolfs and we want to share 5 of them with you:

  1. Wolfs are social animals, they live and hunt in packs and have strong bondings. Usually there are 6 to 10 of them in a pack and all the members of the pack provide food for the mother and the cubs. If there are too many wolfs in one pack, some of the younger wolfs (1-2 years old) can disperse: they look for a mate (partner) and start a new pack or join another pack.
  2. The wolf is a key species. They control populations of other animals and always hunt the weakest ones. Also, they are scavengers, so they keep natural areas clean and prevent diseases from spreading.
  3. There are different subspecies with different color patterns: the Yukon wolf (black and grey) in Alaska and Canada, theEuropean wolf (brown-grey), the Arabian wolf (light blonde), and the Arctic wolf (white).
  4. Wolfs have conflicts with farmers and livestock but they only affect around 1 % of the livestock in regions where they are present.
  5. They live in very different habitats, not only in the forest. They can eat many kinds of animals, but their diet mainly consists of ungulates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ungulate).

The educational part of the week was often interrupted by animals which we needed to take care of. We didn’t succeed to see a wolf, but we saw deers near the forest, the big bears woke up from their winter sleep, and also during “the wolf week” a fox came to visit our chickens (to control the population), but unfortunately for the fox our dogs were in the mood to control the fox population in the village…

Nowadays wolves are rare in the forests near Kuterevo. People who work in the woods say that about ten years ago there were much more wolf packs than now.

We now informed ourselfs about two out of three of Croatia’s biggest carnivores: bears and wolfs. The third biggest carnivore is the Lynx, and we will learn more about this animal this week, as it is the ‘Topic of the Week’.

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Bears Worldwide

During our times as volunteers in Kuterevo, we had of course already learnt some things about Brown Bears. However, there are seven other species of bears, spread around the world. We thought that it would be interesting to learn about these other bears, and to compare the situations of bears in other countries – in the wild and in refuges – with the situation in Croatia and in our refuge. We therefore decided to all get more informed about this topic during two weeks. We all specialized in some topics and presented them to each other, and we watched two documentaries, one about the Panda and one about the Asian Black Bear.

The two ´bear weeks´ were very interesting, but also somewhat depressing. Worldwide, bear numbers are decreasing almost everywhere due to human activities. The only well protected bear is the Panda. Does a bear species have to be nearly extinct, cute and fluffy, and an international icon of nature conservation before it finally gets the respect and protection it deserves…?

Marco presenting to the other volunteers

Marco presenting to the other volunteers

Bear Biology and Bears around the World

We started the bear weeks with an interesting presentation by Marco about the biology of all the eight different species of bears that exist. Later, we all got more informed about the situation of bears in different parts of the world, including their threats and conservation measures that are taken. Below, we give a summary of these presentations.

Biology and Presence

Evolution of different bear species

Evolution of different bear species

Giant Panda – Ailuropoda melanoleuca

Map: distribution of Giant Pandas (2009): several isolated spots in China
Source: IUCN Red List

Panda

Distribution of Giant Pandas (2009): several isolated spots in ChinaSource: IUCN Red List

Spectacled Bear – Tremarctos ornatus

Photograph: Barbara von Hoffman/Animals Animals-Earth Scenes

Map: Distribution of Spectacled Bears (2012): northern and western South America. Source: IUCN Red List

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Sloth Bear – Melursus ursinus

Map: Distribution of Sloth Bears (2010): India and Sri Lanka. Source: IUCN Red List

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Sun Bear – Helarctos malayanus

Map: Distribution of Sun Bears (2010): tropical rainforests in Southeast Asia. Source: IUCN Red List

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American Black Bear – Ursus americanus

Photograph: Taken at Cincinnati Zoo. Photo by Greg Hume

Map: Distribution of American Black Bears (2010): Canada and US.

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Asian Black Bear (Moon Bear) – Ursus thibetanus

Map: Distribution of Asian Black Bears (2010): mainly mountainous areas in Asia. Source: IUCN Red List.

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Polar Bear – Ursus maritimus

Photograph: http://www.naturespicsonline.com, author: Alan Wilson

Map: Distribution of Polar Bears (2006): around the North Pole.

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Brown Bear – Ursus arctos

Map: Distribution of Brown Bears: North America, Europe, Asia

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The Sun Bear, living in Southeast Asia, is the smallest of all bear species, with adult bears weighing just between 27 (females) and 70 kilos (males). Polar bears are the biggest bears. Male adults on average weight 720 kilos. When they stand on four feet, they measure about two meters from toes to shoulders! The weight of bears is very variable and depends a lot on their diet.

All bears have the biology of carnivores, although most species eat more than 50% vegetarian food. Polar bears are real carnivores, eating mainly seals, while Pandas eat almost only bamboo. Sloth Bears feed mostly on insects, and their mouths are pointy and suitable for getting insects from trees.

Brown Bears occur in a big part of the world, and their diet varies between different areas. In Croatia, the diet of Brown Bears consists for only about 5% of meat. The Brown Bears in Finland eat almost 30% meat. The Grizzly Bear in North America is a subspecies of the Brown Bear, and these bears eat 10 to 40% meat, including fat salmons.

Unlike the Croatian Brown Bears, most bear species don´t hibernate. Only some bears in cold areas go into hibernation during winter.

Threats

The numbers of most bear species (excluding Brown Bears) have been declining for many years. For example, both the number of Moon Bears and Sun Bears has decreased with more than 30% in the past three decades.

The main threats for bears are all related to people. Numbers of bears are declining because of hunting, poaching and destruction of their habitat. In many countries in Asia, bears are hunted for body parts which are by some said to be healthy to eat or to bring luck. Mainly Sun Bears are also hunted and kept in farms for their bile: the digestion fluid in their gall blatter, which is used as a traditional medicine.

Conservation

Most bear species are classified as ´vulnerable´ on the Red List of the IUCN (link to www.iucnredlist.org), which means that there is a high risk of endangerment of the species in the wild. The Panda is listed as ´endangered´, because there are only several thousand individuals left in the wild, spread over isolated areas, and there is a considerable chance that the species will die out in the wild. The Brown Bear is the only bear species to be globally listed under ´least concern´ by the IUCN, even though their numbers have been decreasing considerably.

In most countries where threatened bears reside, the bears are protected by law and it is forbidden to hunt them. However, in many countries these laws are badly implemented. This is mainly the case in vast countries outside Europe.

The Panda is a special case. As it is much endangered and very mediagenic, there are many programs to help it, and there are severe punishments by the Chinese government for poaching. Panda habitat is being restored and different areas in which Pandas reside are being linked together. Also, Pandas which are raised in captivity are being released into the wild.

Bear Refuges around the World

We found it interesting to inform ourselves about other bear refuges in the world than Kuterevo, to learn about the situation of bears in refuges in those countries. Marco made a detailed presentation about 7 other refuges: 3 in Europe (Germany, Netherlands and Hungary), 2 in Southeast Asia (Cambodia and Indonesia), and 2 in North America (USA and Canada).

We discovered different ways of managing the bears in refuges, like in North America: after rehabilitating the orphan cubs, they release them in the wild. Even though there it is possible, in Croatia this action would be deadly for the bears: the forests here are fragmented and the bears have lost their natural instinct in the enclosure, and they would probably get close to humans again to look for food… then they would die or have to go back to a refuge.

To finish, most of these refuges are run by volunteers and we can stress two important aspects: the refuges propose educational workshops about bears, and work thanks to donations to finance for example new enclosures. The first aspect has, we hope, a direct link with the second: if we succeed to inform people about what bears need to live peacefully and how people should behave when they meet one of them, then maybe less bears will arrive in the refuges because they were too much in contact with humans. Then, we won’t need more enclosures anymore to welcome bears. Unlike zoos, we don’t wish to keep bears in enclosures, but work to make people understand that one of the best ways to love and respect nature, is to let it its wilderness, bears included.

Alice (France) and Kim (Netherlands)