South Australian suburban mall created a buzz after falsely attributing a bee quote, written on a plaque in a bathroom hallway, to famous British naturalist Sir David Attenborough
The plaque, labeled ‘bee propaganda’, has now been removed after Attenborough himself intervened.
It all started in July when Heath Hunter, a wildlife science graduate, spotted a mural of bees on a wall in a hallway leading to the restroom at Westfield Tea Tree Plaza in northeast Adelaide.
Next to the mural was a 10cm plaque with a quote attributed to Attenborough which read: “In the last five years the bee population has declined by a third. If bees were to disappear from the face of the Earth, humans would only have four years to live.
Hunter immediately recognized the quote, which had been popularized in a meme on Facebook. Internet detectives traced the origin of the quote to The Life of the Bee, a book published by Belgian playwright, poet and essayist Maurice Maeterlinck in 1901.
“Remove the bee from the earth and at the same time you remove at least a hundred thousand plants that will not survive,” Maeterlinck wrote.
For a century, the sentiment repeated itself in various forms before spreading across the Internet. There it was also falsely attributed to Albert Einstein in reference to the decline in bee populations in Europe and North America caused by colony collapse disorder.
“It’s bee propaganda,” Hunter said. “When people talk about wanting to save bees, they think of the European bee, which is a farmed species.
“People don’t think of all the native bees that need help. Some of them are critically endangered.
Hunter alerted mall management via the mural artist – who had no responsibility for the plaque – and was told management would “consider” replacing it.
“Although the plaque may have a false representation, it does not cause any damage. [and] promotes [importance] bees around the world and that the local community appreciates and considers them and their habitat, ”they said in an email.
When he returned a few months later, however, the plaque remained. Hunter then wrote directly to Attenborough, explaining the situation and including a photograph of the plaque.
“I thought, fuck myself, I’ll send a letter to the big man himself and see what he says,” Hunter said. “Then I forgot him a bit, and it was probably about a month later that I got a letter from him.
“He said in a very David Attenborough way that“ I didn’t say those statements and I think that’s wrong. ”He said he didn’t use email so would you like to pass it on. this letter to the people of TTP (Tea Tree Plaza).
But when Hunter passed the message on to the mall management, nothing was done and the plaque was only removed after a local reporter called.
A spokesperson for Westfield Tea Tree Plaza confirmed the withdrawal.
“We appreciate that the customer brought this to our attention. The plaque, including the citation, has been removed, ”they said.
Hunter, who volunteers as an environmentalist, said he never wanted to speak to the media, but the plaque helped spread misinformation. European bees that have escaped captivity compete with native bees for pollen and expel native wildlife from tree hollows, sometimes killing them in the process.
He said he hoped people would learn to dig deeper because “Facebook memes are not a reliable source of information.”
“Bees don’t need help, they don’t need to be rescued,” he said. “There are a few hundred species of bees in South Australia alone, but people don’t know that. When people think of bees, they think of honey bees.
“When people say save the bees, I would like them to say save the native bees instead. “