8 Jul 2016

Sticky Fingers

From Country Life, 9:18 pm on 8 July 2016
Beehive on an organic farm.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Beekeepers are looking over their shoulders.

Their hives and equipment are being stolen in a wave of crime by sticky fingered thieves. And the culprits come from within their own industry.

"It's got to be a beekeeper who takes a hive," says long-time bee keeper Frank Lindsay." There's a lot of greed around."

That greed is being fueled by soaring prices for manuka honey. With its nutritional value and proven medicinal qualities, demand has taken off.

Peter Ferris, a beekeeper, beekeeper trainer and beehive inspector says he used to tip manuka honey down the drain or feed it back to his bees.  Now it fetches between $30 and $50 dollars a kilogram and the most active manuka honey is worth many times more.

"People believe there's a pot of gold out there and are after that pot of gold," Peter says.

He has been in the industry for 45 years and has never seen so many thefts.

He say it's no surprise beekeepers are outraged.

"Each hive is worth a heck of a lot of money...about $1000. It's a massive lot of money when someone goes in and picks up a yard of bees and takes 20 to 30 hives."

Peter has been working with the police to investigate beehive thefts. He says at one address he found hives and equipment from five different beekeepers worth a total of $100,000.  

Whanganui beekeeper Allan Richards knows of hives stolen from Northland, Waikato, Taranaki, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne, Whanganui and Manawatu."

"People are wanting to get into this gold rush and, if they can't afford to buy them, they pinch them."

Allan has started locking every gate on every farm he uses.  "But that doesn't stop them. They cut locks, cut gates cut fences if they want them....just taking whole apiaries."

Some thieves are stealing hives that have been bedded down for the winter. Frank Lindsay says others are taking hives loaded with honey.

"Honey's hard to track. If you can take the end product it's easier isn't it? Then they don't have to do any work. You just have to put it in with their lot and away they go."

Beekeepers are trying to stem thefts by branding their hives and frames and are installing cameras on rural roads and on farms. Some have also started putting electronic tracking chips in hives.

The Police say they are putting together an investigation template for beehive thefts for use across New Zealand.

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