Philanthropist is the bee's knees
Gift of the Givers comes to the aid of Knysna's unique honey bees, which have become endangered since last year's fires
International humanitarian Imtiaaz Sooliman is regarded as the bee’s knees in the once fire-ravaged town of Knysna.
The popular Garden Route town is seeing a rejuvenation of its honey bee population, after millions of the robust insects and hundreds of hives perished in the devastating fires last year.
Beekeepers knew they were in trouble because the complete disappearance of the Cape honey bees would have spelt disaster for food production and pollination.
But in swooped Pietermaritzburg doctor Sooliman – founder of Gift of the Givers, an NGO that has been providing aid through its projects in South Africa and overseas.Since Gift of the Givers’ initial cash injection for special bee food and new hives, the organisation has outlaid about R500,000 for their rehabilitation, which is being conducted with their non-profit partner Hope for The Honey Bees.
Owen Williams – one of the founders of Hope for The Honey Bees and a beekeeper who lost 64 hives in the fire – said rehabilitation efforts over the last 11 months has seen an estimated 30% recovery of the bee population.
This included feeding the bees with a pollen substitute to keep them alive and thriving and setting up new hives.
Williams said the Cape honey bee population in the greater Knysna area was particularly important as it had been certified free of the highly infectious and destructive American foulbrood disease. The population was also genetically unique.
“The improvement has been astounding with the help of Gift of the Givers. Our colonies have recovered by about 30%.
“The aid for the bees is a world first, we believe. We have researched and did not find any initiative like this.“A South African scientist estimated that there were 22 million bees that were lost. It was like divine intervention meeting Dr Sooliman. What is touching is the hope that came from Gift of the Givers for the beekeepers, some who lost everything in the fire.”
Williams, who also runs a honey farm, first met Sooliman when he and his partners Meagan Vermaas and Grant Livesey were looking for sugar donations to make syrup for the bees who survived the fire.
Sooliman said his curiosity was piqued when the trio approached his organisation for sugar to feed the bees.
“I was very curious about this so went with them to where they were looking after some beehives they had rescued.“I put on the bee protection suit and they opened a hive for me. I was hooked and awe-struck the moment I saw that sight. Instantly, I fell in love with the bees.
That bee hive has been named “Doc’s Bees” and only had 2,000 bees remaining after the fire.
“They told me that about 330 beehives were destroyed each one holding 70,000 bees. That’s a loss of around 22 million bees. They explained to me about the uniqueness of the Cape bee and the quality of its honey. I didn’t hesitate. The bee needed to be saved. We outlaid R250,000 immediately to get new hives and special bee food. We gave more money in December and are supporting them fully.”
With rehabilitation efforts Sooliman’s hive alone has grown from 2,000 to 45,000 bees in less than a year.
“There’s several similar hives Gift of the Givers are funding Hope for the Honeybees,” he said.
Williams said the next step was to train young people from disadvantaged communities to become bee keepers.