Giles Maduro: The ‘bee whisperer’ of Aruba

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Around the world, bees are in danger, and Aruba is no exception. But this insect, indispensable for vegetation and nature in general has a big ally, and his name is Giles Maduro (33) of the Fundacion Proteha Abeha Aruba, FPAA.

Giles is known for getting beehives out of people’s homes and rescuing these animals that contribute to pollination of plants including those that produce food. The interest that Giles Maduro has for bees began very early. He always liked nature, inspired primarily by his grandfather Sixto Maduro. Sixto, a fisherman, would regularly take his grandson into the mondi – Aruba’s wilderness – to explore the local nature. And from the moment when Giles lost his grandfather, through the passing of the years, he felt himself called to become a protector of bees, to ensure that they do not disappear from the nature on Aruba, and at the same time, to ensure that Aruba’s nature is not lost. “My grandfather would take us into the mondi and teach us about herbs that people use as medicine”, he said.

In 2007, even though Giles was very young, he decided to focus on working with bees. Before that, his interest was in art and photography. But why bees? “I felt that I had to do something for these insects. From a young age I was searching for a purpose. If I do a job, I have to do it with love.” Some people feel themselves called to conservation, for example of rhinoceros. The fight of activists to try to save the various species of rhinoceros inspired the teenager, who began educate himself about the habitat, behavior and needs of bees in Aruba. “They are the main key for nature around the world, and I take it very seriously.”

When our reporter met with Giles Maduro, he had just removed a bee colony from a house, to then bring to a local farm that belongs to an elderly farmer. There he had the opportunity to talk to the gentleman, who wanted to tell him about his own work. It was another opportunity for Giles to learn from his elders and appreciate the work that goes into farming. And it is precisely here where bees have a very important role to play.

He taught himself from very early on how to rescue bee colonies which are under stress or have begun invading houses in Aruba. With more inhabitants, more development, there is less mondi available for these insects. And with the climate becoming warmer and dryer, more and more bees are seeking refuge in residential areas.
The result is that Giles is constantly active removing bee colonies in order to put them in a special box and bring them to a safe place.

Giles can be considered self-made. In any case, he finds all necessary information online and learns by himself. “I also took a course in Colombia, to learn more about bees and their life. When you start on your own, you don’t know much about new developments. For example, in the past I used smoke in the house to get the bees out. But nowadays I don’t do it (as much) because I learned that smoke can burn their wings and even their eyes. So now that I work with bees, I know how to give them a better treatment.”

Giles Maduro has two boxes of bees for himself. He doesn’t have more because he lives in a residential neighborhood “and you cannot have a lot of boxes in a neighborhood, and sometimes bees go crazy”. Giles doesn’t get honey from the bees, because he doesn’t want to interrupt the natural process of the bees. “They need the wax to eat.” They make this for the colony to survive. But if he finds a colony in somebody’s house, that has already made wax, he takes the honey and brings some to the house’s owner. “We sell that to raise funds for the foundation”, Fundacion Proteha Abeha Aruba – Protect Bees Aruba Foundation.

Generally, bees are not aggressive. A new queen going out with her swarm is very calm, because they are all well fed. When you see a swarm of bees, mostly they are searching for a home. In that case, you can approach them without protection on your body or face. “But there are people who panic seeing a swarm of bees arriving at their home. It’s a natural reaction. That’s why we want to emphasize that when a swarm of bees approaches a home, just stay calm, because they are just going to rest. However, when a beehive has existed for a while and they have made wax already, you have a colony which becomes defensive. Then you need to be careful to not make a lot of noise, don’t walk around with perfume or spray insecticide. All that can trigger the bees and make them aggressive.”

Thus it is recommended to remove all the wax, the queen and the bees from people’s home. And how does Giles recognize the queen? “The bees dance in a circle. The bees gather around the queen, and the others begin to walk around the ball of bees to close it more narrowly. The queen emits a smell to call her bees, another smell to signal to attack, and for the bees to find food.”

Many local farmers – known as cunukero – make boxes for bees to live on their land. Giles doesn’t just free the bees anywhere, because the place needs to be green and fresh and removed from homes.

Bees are in danger because rain is not falling, there aren’t a lot of plants with flowers, and the heat is intense. “We are finding hives that simply suffocated or fell into depression and they die.”

These days it is extremely hot, which means more work, something that makes Giles happy. His ambition is to stabilize the bee population of Aruba, and afterwards, share his knowledge with the world.

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