Honeybees are more than just flying insects. They are vital for healthy and stable food supplies. Many crops depend upon beehives to help with pollination and they are key to people’s nutritious diets. But honeybees are now in trouble as there is a growing concern of their decline in different parts of the world. In the US alone, hive theft has become an issue.
Beehive heists in the US
In a report published by US daily The Guardian, it was mentioned that thieves are now targeting honeybees with growing sophistication in the country. The “hive crime” is usually undertaken at night using trucks and forklifts. In the process, thieves would have to dismantle or split open the hives but doing so can kill tens of thousands of bees.
Butte county police officer Rowdy Freeman, who is commonly called the county’s “bee theft detective,” said that hive theft has increased in the last eight years. In California alone, there were 1,695 cases of hive thefts in 2016, an increase of 101 cases compared to the 2015 figure. He believes that the number of hive crimes may rise and fall irregularly but it is something that will continue. He added that to deter and prevent hive theft, it will require advancements in the use of technology as well as resources.
Honey farm Pottsy’s Pollination’s owner Mike Potts is one of the victims of hive crime. He shared that he was about to load 200 hives of bees on his truck and drive them to California but found that 92 hives were taken away by thieves when he unloaded it near Yuba City. He said the stolen hives cost him $44,000. Although the police stopped three suspicious beekeepers who were traveling late at night, Potts’ property was not recovered. “It’s frustrating because it’s getting harder and harder to keep bees alive,” Potts said, adding that there is even a need to transport the bees but they will just be taken. He also admitted being aware of hive crime but did not imagine it would happen to him.
One of the biggest bee heists that made global headlines was the case of Canadian beekeeper Jean Marc Labont. In 2016, he said that about five million of his bees were stolen by thieves from his farm. These bees were in 180 hives and were worth $200,000. “To have hives stolen like that, it's not funny at all,'' he said in an interview with Huffington Post. Two suspects were caught by the police and one was sentenced to nine months’ probation, including $40,000 fine and a house arrest for five months. The other suspect was acquitted, the Canadian Broadcasting Company shared.
Big money in bee’s honey
Aside from bee’s pollination services, they are also a hot commodity because of their honey. The global demand for the organic market is expected to reach US$910 million in 2024 from $500 million in 2019. This was according to financial information site MarketWatch. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations also published data on the largest consumers of honey. It includes the Central African Republic (9.2 daily grams per capita), New Zealand (5.55 grams), Slovenia (4.4 grams), Greece (4.24 grams), and Switzerland (3.87 grams).
Agriculture and almond industries: key drivers for the demand of honeybees
In the US, the center of hive crime is the Central Valley in California state. About a quarter of all US produce is grown in the Central Valley, but apricots, lemons, grapes, and lettuce in the area require pollination from bees. The almond industry is a key driver for the demand for honeybees. Currently, there are 1.17m acres of almonds in California and pollination is required so they grow strong and healthy.
According to financial and market summary platform MarketWatch, the global almond market was valued at US$6,140 million in 2018 and is expected to reach $8,930 million by the end of 2025 at 4.8% CAGR.
Domestic and wild honeybees perform about 80% of all pollination in the world. A single honeybee colony can already pollinate 300 flowers per day. Furthermore, 70 out of the top 100 human food crops that supply nearly 90% of the world’s nutrition, are pollinated by honeybees. This is based on data released by Greenpeace, an independent organization campaigning to ensure a peaceful and sustainable world for future generations.
There were 79.68 million beehives in the world in 2010 and it increased to 80.4 million in 2011, and 83.06 million in 2012. The statistics further show the following numbers of beehives worldwide and their corresponding years: 2013 (84.9 million), 2014 (87.26), 2015 (89.01 million), 2016 (90.56 million), and 2017 (91 million). The survey was conducted by the database company Statista.
Scientists have also been researching on the potential consequences of the decline of the honey bee population and how they can mitigate the said effects before it leads to problems in crop production and management. There is also a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder, which happens when most of the worker bees in the colony leave behind the queen or disappear with only a few nurse bees remaining to care for the queen and the immature bees. This phenomenon affects humans because it also threatens the food supply.
Beehive anti-theft method
Beekeepers around the world need to take measures to protect not only their valuable investments but the food supply as well. Beekeeping platform BeeKeepClub has shared practical tips to prevent beehive theft, including putting fences in the apiaries (where beehives are kept) as the first line of defense, using CCTV cameras for monitoring that can be triggered by motion, installing trail or wildlife cameras to be placed on access roads that capture footage periodically, and choosing a suitable location to place the beehives. Beehives that are hidden will not be easily spotted, thus cannot be easily targeted for theft. The use of tracking devices is okay but beekeepers must choose one that doesn’t harm the bees because continuous emission of cell phone and radio signals may also disorient bees.
Beekeepers should also immediately report to the proper authorities if their hives are stolen. It would be better for them if the investigation starts at the soonest possible time. Honeybees are vital agricultural commodities worldwide. Aside from encountering colony collapse disorder, some countries have to deal with hive crime. Beehive theft prevention methods are a necessary consideration, especially in large beekeeping businesses.