In the last few years, the popularity of Manuka honey has gone up, and the value of beehives has gone right up with it. Because of that, reported thefts of beehives and their honeybees have gone up as well. In New Zealand, where Manuka flourishes along with beekeepers’ businesses, these thefts are especially prevalent, with local police across the entire island country even coming up with special protocols in watching for and catching bee thieves. In Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, one police officer is so familiar with beehives that he actually was able to spot a hive theft without even witnessing the crime itself.
Hawke’s Bay crime prevention supervisor Andrew Graham was driving down a state highway when he noticed broken hives scattered along the road. “My father has kept bees for years, so I knew what they were straight away,” Graham said. Given beehives look similar to oversized-shoe boxes and Graham’s background, this knowledge influenced Graham’s observations. “I stopped, looked around to make sure there was nobody about, collected everything, and put it in the boot of my car. Because beekeepers have to be registered, the boxes had a registration number on them, and we were soon able to identify where they came from.”
Neighbors told Graham a swarm of bees had been hanging around (odd given the winter season), but they dispersed early in the evening. It was later discovered the beehives belonged to Beagle’s Bees and were some of 38 stolen during a previous two-day period—the second time Beagle’s Bees had been hit in the past month, with 56 hives stolen in total. Owner Beagle Rogers, a 16-year beekeeper, said, “When the first lot went missing, I was dumbfounded when I went to the site to feed them and everything was gone.”
“It’s like a farmer turning up at his paddock to find all his stock gone…The worst part is that they have taken my breeding stock for next year.” As is the case in most beehive thefts, the perpetrators likely had knowledge on how to handle and transport honeybees. “They know when to take the hives—either at night when the bees are all in the hive or during winter on a cold day when the bees don’t venture out,” Rogers said.
The secretary of the Hawke’s Bay Hub of Apiculture New Zealand, Deanna Corbett, said beekeepers don’t talk about hive theft due to the uninvited attention. “That’s why they don’t talk about cost of a hive in case it encourages more thieves…Beekeepers feel pretty vulnerable,” she added. “Because this theft has come to our attention in such a short time-frame, we are hoping someone will remember seeing a vehicle with beehives on it.” As well, Graham said the police is asking the public to report any suspicious vehicles carrying beehives, and hopefully potential buyers will ask sellers in the next few weeks for registration ID numbers like the one he knew to look for.