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US-Mexico To Sign Agreement to Stop Spread of Killer Bees

July 14, 1987

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AP) _ The United States and Mexico will sign an agreement this summer to create a program that could delay by a decade the arrival in Texas of African ″killer″ honeybees, an official says.

Don Husnik of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday that without such a program, the bees could reach Brownsville, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, as early as 1989 or 1990.

The agreement would set up a biological barrier at Mexico’s narrowest point, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, said Husnik, associate deputy administrator for the Plant Protection and Quarantine division of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The program includes a ban on movement of domestic bees in the barrier zone and use of traps to allow detection and eradication of colonies of African bees.

Husnik said the barrier may not stop the bees’ spread completely, but would ″at least retard their spread by 10 years.″

Officials from both countries met last Thursday in McAllen to discuss legal aspects of the proposed agreement, which still faces scrutiny by the USDA and the State Department and their counterparts in Mexico.

U.S. officials are anxious to get started on such a program because wild colonies of the aggressive bees, which have caused numerous deaths in South and Central America, have been detected as close as 26 miles from the proposed barrier zone.

The bees have been spreading northward since 1957, when some queens imported to Brazil from Africa escaped. So far, efforts to stop them have failed.

Gustavo Rodriguez, director of Mexico’s program for controlling Africanized bees, said in an interview in McAllen last week that the bees were first found in Mexico around Tapachula, in the state of Chiapas, in December 1986.

Since then they have been moving up the Pacific Coast in Chiapas and Oaxaca and others havebeen found near the Belize border in the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo, he said.

A group of the bees was found in California in 1985. Officials speculated that the bees, curbed after quarantine and search programs, had been brought in with oil drilling equipment from South America.

Besides exhibiting much greater defensive characteristics than European honeybees, African bees also are more prolific and migrate more quickly up to 250 miles a year, Rodriguez said.

At that rate, he said, the bees could be expected to enter the United States near Brownsville by 1989 or 1990, Rodriguez told the San Antonio Express-News.

″However, the cooperative program is going to act to delay the arrival, and use genetic technology to permit the modification of characteristic s of the African bees,″ Rodriguez said.

One part of the strategy, Rodriguez said, would be to kill the African bee queen and substituting a European queen in colonies in order to dilute the genetic characteristics toward aggressive behavior, he said.

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