There are over 100 beekeepers in the the rural town of Itatira in the Brazilian state of Ceará. The region is arid and uncultivable but makes an ideal environment for bee keeping. The most successful beekeeping duo in the area is an unlikely pair with a unique method for harvesting.
Manuel Juaraci, 59, and his donkey Boneco are the “bee’s knees” when it comes to honey harvesting in Brazil. The two harvest more honey than their competitors and they do so with panache. Their success lies with Manuel’s solution to the bees stinging Boneco. Manuel designed a custom beekeeping suit for the donkey. The outfit covers, Boneco from ears to toes protecting him from stings. Able to work comfortably, the two can harvest more honey.
The volume of their harvest is impressive but it’s the ingenuity behind the donkey suit that has caught the eye of the Brazilian Association of Honey Producers. The Association asked Manuel to make custom suits for other donkeys. He is considering the offer but suggests that it isn’t just the donkey’s suit that makes him a success honey farmer.
“Boneco is a faithful friend,” he boasts.
Gene Brandi, the vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation, said this is the first time he’s heard about a donkey being used to gather honey. But he said the donkey’s hoof-to-muzzle beekeeping getup is a good idea.
“In Brazil they have Africanized bees, sometimes called killer bees,” Brandi explains. “You can collect their honey but they have a defensive nature so you have to be prepared.”
Africanized honeybees look much the same as their more docile cousins, but they’re far easier to rile up. In the U.S., they kill one to two people each year and several dogs, according to the Texas Tech University agricultural department.
It might seem strange to some, but honey farmer and homespun inventor Manuel Juraci is unashamed to call a jackass both a colleague and a friend. And the world is made sweeter thanks to them.