BERLIN (AFP) – When beekeeper Bjorn Wilken looks at his hives, he pays attention to things differently than many of his fellow beekeepers. Because Wilken is a veterinarian and soon becomes a bee veterinarian – one of only twelve in Germany. “Bees are one of the most important farm animals,” Wilkin says. Therefore, there is a growing awareness of the need to take care of their health.
As a would-be vet, Wilkin doesn’t just take care of his bees. He is the official veterinarian in Berlin. He needs his expertise in bees, for example, when beekeepers want to move their bee colonies. “For example, I need to be able to assess if there are signs of American brood so that it is not transmitting diseases around it,” Wilkin says. Its action is also important for honey to be a safe food.
Veterinarians who specialize in bees are still rare
While bees and beekeeping are becoming increasingly popular, beekeepers are still a small group. According to the statistics of the Federal Chamber of Veterinarians for 2020, there are only 17 veterinarians across the country who specialize in bees, nine of them with the title of specialist, and the other eight with the additional title of “bee”.
Like Bjorn Wilken, many of them work in the public sector or in laboratories. Hardly anyone has typical small animal exercise or driving experience. “The idea of running bee clinics is an honest idea, but it just doesn’t make business sense,” Wilkin says. Among other things, because beekeepers can usually freely obtain medicines.
Important aspects: food, flight behavior and location
Working as a beekeeper is also different from working with dogs, cats, horses, pigs, or cattle. Blood tests or listening with a stethoscope cannot be done with these special patients. “We look at bees less individually and we look more at the entire social structure, including the beehive,” Wilkin says. Interested in aspects such as: Do bees fly quietly or excitedly? Do they have enough to eat? Are honeycombs moldy? Does the queen lay enough eggs? What is the site environment like? Then he takes samples if necessary: from honey, honeycomb, forage rings or even dead bees.
If the disease needs treatment, for example, an antidote can be sprayed into the beehive. However, because there are few medications available to bees, it is important to prevent diseases such as Varroa mite infestation. This parasite weakens bees and can also transmit disease-causing viruses.
The fact that Wilkin can diagnose and treat bee diseases is due to his own commitment. Traditionally, bees are taught only as part of parasitology or as an optional option in veterinary training, says Heike Aupperle-Lellbach. The vet was the first veterinarian to specialize in bees in Germany. A few years ago, when she was a research associate at the University of Leipzig, she began training to become a bee veterinarian in Germany.
A specialist group for bees at DVG
Aupperle-Lellbach complains that, for example, only beekeepers and biologists are asked about the new laws. “They’re doing a great job, but animal disease control or food law or drug law are veterinary issues.”
In order to further the importance of bees in veterinary medicine, she established a bee specialist group at the German Veterinary Medical Association (DVG) in 2014. Bjorn Wilken now leads the group. All contact details for veterinary bee experts are listed on the specialist group website – with the hope that veterinarians will be contacted and involved in the fight against American brood, for example.
“But we have to admit that we don’t have as many bee doctors as we need,” Wilkin says. According to Aupperle-Lellbach, this could change if veterinary societies introduce more possible individual solutions in order to recognize the achievements of specialist training. According to her own statements, she was only able to get the title because the Veterinary Society recognized her self-study – after all, there was no training yet. The Academy of Veterinary Training (ATF) of the Federal Chamber of Veterinarians has been providing training for veterinarians on bee topics since 2015.
The fact that bee connoisseurs are still rare is not only the case in Germany. An international research group concluded in a review published in 2019 that “apiology in the EU receives less attention than other disciplines in veterinary studies.” Experimental zoology or fish, for example, will be discussed more vigorously. Bee mortality is high due to various influences such as the use of pesticides and climate change. According to the study, postgraduate training is only available at 19 institutions across Europe.
Hobbyist beekeepers and official Wilkin see bee veterinarians as networkers who want to combine their expertise with the knowledge of other bee experts. “The bee is too diverse a creature to be assigned to just one occupational group,” Wilkin says. “If everyone brings something to the buffet, it will be a great evening.”
© dpa-infocom, dpa: 220513-99-270159 / 2