The Shutterbug With A Love For Bees

Zestin Soh’s love of nature photography has taken him around the world, but his passion for a small insect started right here in the National Parks Board.

Zestin Soh, a community parks manager with National Parks Board (NParks), is on a mission to bust the myths about bees.

He grew knowledgeable about bees after studying them in parks during an internship at the NParks’ National Biodiversity Centre in 2012. Over eight months, he learnt about over 50 species of bees not found in exhibitions or books about local biodiversity.

Since then, he has discovered — and even named — several new species for Singapore. One is a type of carpenter bee with a heart-shape patch, found in 2014. It was given the name Ceratina sayang (“sayang” means “love” in Malay) for its unique body marking.

Bees come in all colours, including shiny green, red, orange and bands of blue.

A common belief is that bees live together in colonies, and in hives. But the carpenter bee usually lives alone, in a hole bored in wood. Bees also come in colours such as blue, green and red, defying the common assumption that all bees are black and yellow.

Zestin’s interest in nature began since his “first walkabout in the garden as a kid”, where he saw lizards, insects, birds and “other moving things that were alive”.

He picked up photography in junior college to capture and tell stories about wildlife and nature. Whenever he can, the self-taught photography buff travels around the world to capture animal wildlife, e.g., the Great Migration in Kenya, the murmuration of European starlings, and birds during their breeding season.

Zestin’s photos have been featured in two issues of BBC Wildlife Magazine in 2013, and he was a finalist for the 2014 National Geographic Wildlife Photographer award.

In Singapore, many bee species haven’t yet been caught on film, and Zestin’s goal is to photograph them all. “I’m also trying to find rare species and [capture the] relationships between Singapore’s native flowering plants and bees.”

Since he works so closely with bees, Zestin has been stung a few times. But most bees are docile, he stresses. “They are too preoccupied with flowers to bother people, and they are more likely to flee before you get near them”.

For bee watching, Zestin recommends HortPark, the Singapore Botanic Gardens, and anywhere with a diversity of flowers — even rooftop gardens.

“The great thing about insects is that they’re everywhere. You don’t have to go and look for them, like with birds or mammals… and they are so diverse, there are many new, fascinating species just waiting to be found. It’s hard to get bored!”

Flight to being a bee master

2012: Interned at the National Biodiversity Centre — and wrote the first scientific paper on bees in Singapore’s parks, published with co-author and mentor Robin Ngiam in 2013.

2013: Became the first Singaporean to attend a bee workshop organised by the American Museum of Natural History and run by renowned bee experts around the world. This course provided the background knowledge and training required to start studying bees more seriously.

2013-2016: Majored in Ecology and Environmental Biology in the UK, under a National Parks Board scholarship. Also studied bee specimens at the Natural History Museum of London in his spare time.

Inspired by the Butterflies of Singapore interest group on Facebook, Zestin started one focused on bees and wasps, where enthusiasts can seek and share knowledge. Join them on their facebook page

    Mar 29, 2018
    Siti Maziah Masramli
    Zestin Soh
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