By AMBASSADOR KAMLESH ARYA, Saweni, Lautoka
About a month back three adult female rhinoceros beetles cashed landed on the walls of my quarters at Gurukul Primary School, Saweni during three different nights. The first one landed on Friday night. The thud was so resounding that it felt like someone was hurling stones at the weatherboard wall of the house. The time was around 11 pm. Curiosity took over as the first time the beetle landed. I ventured outside and saw the adult rhinoceros beetle lying on the veranda struggling to go back on its legs. It was female as it had a shorter horn.
Having been taught about the dangers the rhinoceros beetles posed to coconut plants and plantations when I was a kid at primary school, brought a jar and placed the beetle in it. I also decided at that point to call the Department of Agriculture on Monday to deal with the situation.
By Sunday night I had collected 3 adult rhinoceros beetles all land with a thud and then struggling to get back on their legs. Astonishingly the beetles landed around 10 – 11 pm giving a sign that Saweni area may be infested with the rhinoceros beetles.
The experience – unforgettable as my houses have never been visited by rhinoceros beetle in the past.
True to my decision, come Monday morning I called the Department of Agriculture, Lautoka and related the happening of the weekend to a lady staff member. Having listened to by story, she politely advised that she would register my concerns with controlling agents based at Koronivia.
On early Wednesday morning of the week, an officer rings to take details of my whereabouts and by 11 am arrives UniFiji to discuss and collect the beetles. This was very prompt and defied the notion that nothing gets done in the government circles with required seriousness. Both the office and I chattered about the rhinoceros beetles and its effect on our food security should their infestation went unchecked and brought under control. Coconuts after all, are complete source of food and income generator for many ordinary Fijians selling green coconuts on the roadsides.
Along with him he had brought a control mechanism – a blue plastic bucket with a lid and large holes on the top end of the bucket and the lid with a scented bait tied inside. He explained that the scent would attract the female rhinoceros beetles around into the bucket and advised that I hang the bucket securely under a citrus tree or ‘moli karo.’ In the afternoon after work I took the bucket and hung it under a lemon tree with a cable tie and felt the job was done as the contraption provided will take over.
The Officer took the first set of 3 female rhinoceros beetle with him, explaining that would carry out a DNA test on them as a collaboration process with other pacific island countries.
Lo behold! Last Friday (22.8.14) night, I had just returned to my quarters from Suva at 10.30 pm after attending the Methodist Church’s Jubilee AGAPE dinner when a thud sounded outside. Puzzled by the sound; accompanied by the tiredness of driving I dragged myself out of bed to investigate and found a rhinoceros beetle lying on the veranda, struggling to get upright. The time – 11.30 pm. This was a male with a larger horn. It must have come in search of his entrapped mates. I placed the beetle in the jar and went back to bed. Next morning I transferred the male rhinoceros beetle into the plastic bucket after taking a photograph.
When I checked the bucket there were already 3 adult female rhinoceros beetles in it along with a smaller juvenile whose gender could not be established.
Out of curiosity I had emailed the Acting Permanent Secretary for Education Mrs. Basundra Kumar on 19.8.14 inquiring whether our students were taught about the danger posed by the rhinoceros beetle to our coconut industry and how we could help control its’ infestation. She sent an internal inquiry and by 6 pm I was sent a prompt response in the following:
In Year 13 students study the ‘anatomy’ of the rhinoceros beetle and Year 12 it is introduced as ‘an example of insects’. The depth of study of rhinoceros beetle is covered in the subject of ‘Agriculture as a pest.’
Another prompt service from a government ministry.
Whilst I had the possession of the beetles I asked several of primary and secondary school students and showed the sample and the kids hardly had a clue except that those were beetles. They had no knowledge of their habitat nor the dangers it posed to our bountiful coconut trees. I also showed it to some staff at the University and their response was casual – ‘coconut beetle.’ No concern, no surprises. One staff stated that several had land at her home and they simply swept them away the next morning. One gentleman was brave enough to bring one (a female rhinoceros beetle) to me that had land at his house the night before.
The purpose of relating this episode is to highlight two things. One is the importance of coconut in our lives and two – how as responsible Fijians we could work together to tackle the infestation of rhinoceros beetle in our coconut plantations. Had I not been taught about the rhinoceros beetles and the dangers they pose to our food security, like others I would have swept the critters of the veranda without much concern
I strongly believe that we all have a responsibility to the nation and the coconut industry as coconuts play an important role in our daily food requirement. Left unattended, we will definitely miss the ‘palusami’ and the ‘lolo’ that we all are so fond of. And of course the ‘bu’ that helps in the reduction of kidney infections.
It is therefore extremely important to raise greater awareness of the rhinoceros beetles and the dangers they pose to our coconut industry and our food security. I urge the Department of Agriculture and the Ministry of Education to mount a strong media campaign to bring this awareness to a level where we all Fijians become conscious players in the process of eradication of the rhinoceros beetles from our coconut plants and enhancing our food security.
The Saweni experience may just be the ‘tip of the ice-berg’.