x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Heard the buzz? It's the latest hobby in Dubai…

Dubai's self-taught beekeepers hope to encourage more residents to take up the hobby because they believe it will be good for the community.

Helper Hassan Mohammed Hossain and hobby beekeeper Asif Kibria remove panels from a box that contains bees. Sarah Dea / The National
Helper Hassan Mohammed Hossain and hobby beekeeper Asif Kibria remove panels from a box that contains bees. Sarah Dea / The National

DUBAI // Every morning before he leaves for work, Asif Kibria checks on the colony of bees in his backyard.

He gingerly opens a long wooden box containing their hive to check which pollen his thousands of little friends have brought home.

"I like to see if the pollen the bees have collected is white from the date trees or orange from flowers I have not located yet," said Mr Kibria, a businessman who runs a glass and aluminium factory and began keeping bees as a hobby four months ago in his Dubai villa community.

"They are such intelligent creatures that they never mix the pollen, it's kept on separate sides of the hive. It's fascinating to see combs fill with honey and then sealed with wax."

Mr Kibria is among a small band of men in the emirate who are passionate about amateur beekeeping.

They hope to encourage more residents to take up the hobby because they believe it will be good for the community. Bees help to keep neighbourhoods green through cross-pollination.

Rob Higgo, the country director of an energy and electricity generation company, began keeping bees more than a year ago. His swarm has since died so he plans to restart it after the summer and has convinced friends to follow suit.

"I've always been fascinated by bees," Mr Higgo said.

"It would be great to create interest in the community so people learn about how bees are necessary for pollination. You need more hives within a 2 to 5 kilometre area to keep the swarms going."

Posting news about their unusual hobby on community websites often leads to frantic phone calls from residents to remove unwanted swarms.

The men are keen to dispel misconceptions and help people understand that bees are not aggressive unless someone deliberately disrupts a swarm or swipes at them.

"I get called at least once a month by people to remove swarms," said Mr Higgo who, like other enthusiasts, wears a protective suit when in close contact with bees.

"My message is to let them be because they will move away. I've convinced at least five people to just leave the bees alone."

The civic body also backs beekeeping. "We would support this initiative because it has the objective of being good for the habitat," said Ahmad Abdul Kareem, the director of Dubai Municipality's parks and horticulture department.

"In the olden days, our people took honey from the cedar trees; this has happened here for hundreds of years. If people are careful at home, then it is a good idea to have awareness in residential areas."

The UAE has a strong local beekeeping community with professional apiaries in Ras Al Khaimah and Al Ain. Shops sell the necessary equipment, including wooden boxes, bees, smoke dispensers and protective clothing.

Dubai's self-taught beekeepers scour the internet, read books and seek advice from professionals.

Some are keen to share experience gained in their homelands.

"My family had 2,000 bee boxes and a good business but I decided on a different career and came to the UAE," said Genuine Hillary, a software engineer, who posts messages on community websites offering to help beekeepers and preserve a link with his past.

"It's a relaxing way to spend the weekend; to remove the comb without disturbing the hive. I'm really interested to help because I've worked with bees since childhood."

The men say extracting honey by smoking out the bees and then manoeuvring the honeycomb out of the box is immensely rewarding. Their families are also drawn in to their hobby.

"I've got over my fear," said Arousa, Mr Kibria's wife who has overcome concerns about children and visitors being stung.

"Now I'm used to them. The bees don't harm anyone unless you antagonise them. The honey we get is so pure because it has no preservatives. Plus everyone is intrigued when we take them to be introduced to our 'new friends' in our back yard."

rtalwar@thenational.ae