There is controversy in Sri Lanka over the fate of thousands of bees that pose an intermittent threat to people around one of the country’s top tourist sites. Residents near the Sigiriya rock fortress complain that cruel methods are being used to get rid of some of the insects, whose colonies have lived there for hundreds of years.
Sigiriya is a spectacular royal residence built fifteen hundred years ago in the jungle by a warrior king, Kasyapa.
Visitors pass through water gardens and see colourful frescoes on their way up the massive natural rock outcrop, which is topped by a now ruined palace. In some seasons, though, they have to contend with huge colonies of giant honeybees which guard Sigiriya’s portals.
Whole groups of schoolchildren or tourists have been stung and sent to hospital or evacuated with military help. At times of greatest threat, such as now, visitors must wear special protective clothing.
But local people say that in recent days, site employees have behaved unethically by using fire and chemicals to destroy some of the bees.
Those employed at the tourist site, however, say the only methods they’ve used to calm the insects have been Buddhist rituals including an all-night prayer ceremony.
According to local legend quoted in some media, the bees are the incarnation of King Kasyapa’s soldiers. Any way of restraining their activity at this UNESCO World Heritage Site is going to be controversial. These creatures are said to be twice the size of European honeybees, with stingers three times as long.
But one local scientist says that if the bees are respected, they won’t attack – and suggests planting trees as alternative nesting sites. (BBC)