Mysterious bee thieves are stealing hives around the world

in August 20th, 2021

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Bees are pretty easy to steal. Beekeeper suits are readily available, making thieves hard to distinguish from legitimate beekeepers on the farm. As a result, they’ve gotten away with large thefts turning into severe losses for beekeepers.

  • In 2016, thieves took an estimated $200,000 worth of hives from the largest family-run bee site in Canada. One of the suspects was caught, sentenced to nine months probation, and fined $40,000.
  • Three years later, a keeper woke up to over $70,000 in losses in California’s Central Valley, forcing him to start selling personal possessions (such as his wife’s car) to make ends meet.
  • More recently in New York, thousands of speciality bees were taken from a Long Island breeder. These bees were bred specifically to adapt to the area’s climate, costing $500 per hive.

Why are people stealing bees in the first place? Over 40% of the world’s insects are under threat of extinction with high rates of colony collapse for years. As these wild bee populations decline, their pollination services have become a hot commodity. For example in California, this pollination is desperately needed for growing almonds in a state that produces 80% of the world’s supply. Some believe these almond farmers are behind the thievery while others think its former beekeepers making a last ditch effort to save their own businesses. The situation has gotten so bad that one sheriff is solely focused on investigating bee crimes.

There’s even speculation over a possible international network of beekeeper thieves after regions in Europe lost dozens of hives all at once earlier this year. There’s also big money in bee honey. In New Zealand, many beekeepers increased security after becoming a major target in 2017 for those hoping to cash in on manuka honey, a trendy sweetener known for its health benefits. Dubbed “liquid gold,” an eight-ounce jar sells for an average of $60; the manuka industry alone is expected to reach $2.16 billion by 2025. 

Our Sources:

  • Initial coverage: Washington Post
  • Recent theft in France: NPR
  • Beekeepers stealing from beekeepers in California: ABC7
  • Hot markets and major losses for keepers globally: National Geographic
  • Bee decline (plus how pesticides make it worse): Vox
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