By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden welcomes the arrival of honey bees, a species familiar to Oklahomans. The bees will contribute to the pollination process of more than 20 designated horticultural displays located across the OKC Zoo’s 120-acres.
In addition, the Zoo’s education department will integrate bee-related learning activities into their curriculum. The honey and honeycomb produced in the hives could potentially be used for animal enrichment.
The OKC Zoo beehives are located in an undeveloped area south of the elephant habitat. It is a secure area away from walking paths and animal habitats accessible to guests. There are currently three hives at the Zoo, with a fourth arriving soon.
Hosting a population of bees at the OKC Zoo has been in the works for a year, an idea championed by OKC Zoo Security Manager James Lowrey.
In 2012, Lowrey was at home watching YouTube, when he stumbled upon a video about colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon where most of a hive’s worker bees mysteriously die. Lowrey began to study bees and their complex behaviors, eventually joining a beekeeping club to network with other “bee-lievers.”
In 2014, he purchased two hives of his own and today his personal apiary is home to six beehives. Lowrey will help oversee the new program providing guidance and training to other team members.
“From the colony structure to individual job roles and intricate communication systems they demonstrate, bees are endlessly fascinating creatures,” Lowrey said. “It’s a real pleasure to use a skillset I’ve cultivated in my personal life to benefit the Zoo.”
The US Department of Agriculture reports that 30 percent of the nation’s food supply is dependent on pollination from bees, with an economic value of about $16 billion annually. Due to a number of factors, bees and other pollinators are undergoing drastic population losses. https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2016/05/12/usda-releases-results-new-survey-honey-bee-colony-health
In 2016, the OKC Zoo and more than 40 other statewide partners joined forces to create the Oklahoma Monarch & Pollinator Collaborative to raise awareness about pollinators and to encourage Oklahomans to plant for pollinators.
“Pollinators like bees and butterflies are critical to the world’s food supply,” said Rebecca Snyder, OKC Zoo curator of conservation and science. “Having beehives on-site will not only benefit the Zoo’s plant life, but it will also provide an opportunity to educate and inspire future generations to protect this vital species.”
The Zoo is also planning to package the honey retrieved from their hives to sell to guests in mid-to-late 2019. It takes new colonies at least a year to produce amounts of honey sufficient for harvesting.
Zoo fans can support the OKC Zoo by becoming Oklahoma Zoological Society members at ZOOfriends.org or in-person at the Zoo.
OKC Zoo hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Regular admission is $11 for adults and $8 for children ages 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free.
For more information, call 405-424-3344 or visit okczoo.org.