Earlier this year, professional beekeepers Andrii Hrabynskyi and Natalia Okolita received official approval from the New York City Department of Health and the New York State Department of Agriculture to place two boxes of Italian honeybees in a small green space called Bruce’s Garden.
For the past few months, the biggest news out of the colonies has been that they have two queen bees (Jade and Cardi Bee); they hosted a late-summer celebration of National Honeybee Day; and Hrabynskyi and Okolita both quietly tend to them on a weekly basis. But a couple of weeks ago, a three-year-old was stung by yellow jacket wasps while he played in nearby Isham Park, and his dad is blaming—you guessed it—those honeybees and their “hipster” keepers.
According to the New York Post, Tai Corcoran and his dog were both stung by wasps almost a dozen times while they played together approximately 35 yards from the Bruce’s Garden bee boxes. “It was terrifying,” Tai’s dad, Matt Corcoran, said. “He started screaming and I looked over and suddenly there were 30 bees all around him.”
The boy had to be taken to the emergency room and, although he was treated and released,” his father says that he’ll “have to carry around an Epipen for the rest of his life.” The elder Corcoran believes that the wasps were hanging around the park because of the nearby honeybee boxes.
“I’m not anti-hipster but this is incredibly dangerous,” he said. “The colony shouldn’t be so close to kids.” (For what it’s worth, neither Okolita nor Hrabynskyi appear to have a hipster vibe, or give any indication that they’re raising bees for, say, Instagram likes; on top of being serious apiculturists, Hrabynskyi is a fifth-generation beekeeper).
Okolita told the Post that they aren’t responsible for the wasps. “The wild hives are not ours […] They are unrelated to our bee boxes. Our bees don’t sting people,” she said. “But I do feel very sorry for that kid.”
Anthony Planakis, a former ‘bee cop’ for the NYPD, says that the honeybees could have attracted the wasps. “It’s like setting up a caravan next to a diner,” he said. “Yellow jackets decapitate honeybees at the thorax, chew them up and feed them to their young.”
But the New York City Beekeepers Association says that honeybee colonies “do not” attract wasps. “There are hundreds of types of Apis in NYC and more Vespa (wasps). To clump them all into one group as the [ New York Post] article seems to is disingenuous and ignorant. Honey bees are not aggressive and the child was not harmed by honeybees,” Association secretary Paulo Anjou told VICE.
“Many of us at the NYCBA are parents also, and while we sympathize with the predicament of the injured party and family, we also recognize that fear and ignorance makes people behave in irrational ways.”
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation said that it had received two complaints about wild hives near Bruce’s Garden in the past two months, and had removed one of them. “We inspected the site in question this past week and did not find a hive in or around the tree in question. We will broaden the inspection area this week and address accordingly. Additionally, we will have an independent beekeeper inspect the bee boxes,” Crystal Howard, an NYC Parks spokesperson told VICE in an email. She added that the “volunteer group” that maintains the bee boxes—presumably Hrabynskyi and Okolita—”has the technical beekeeping expertise that we do not have.”
Meanwhile, Matt Corcoran said that he took care of the yellow jacket nest that he believed was responsible for his son’s stings by pouring bleach on it. “I wanted them gone,” he said.
New York City legalized beekeeping in 2010, and the city is now home to approximately 400 hives. Hopefully the two in Bruce’s Garden can stick around, too.