Hive theft is a real threat for beekeepers. Not only do they have to deal with the hard work and the already known enemies (Varroa, nosema, vespa velutina, droughts, depopulation, indiscriminate use of pesticides, etc.), but today, theft from apiaries is on the rise. What is really going on?
It is a fact that apiaries must be located in areas away from populations. Bees are very defensive when someone (person or animal) approaches the hives. The law requires a considerable distance from populated areas, highways and roads. This safety measure to avoid accidents is the thieves’ best friend. Apiaries are located in very remote areas and almost always scattered in the solitude of the countryside. This is precisely what thieves are looking for, total impunity and the absence of witnesses to their crime.
On the other hand, hives are becoming increasingly valuable. A complete hive in good condition can be worth about 150 €. An apiary with 100 hives (quite common) has a value of 15.000 €. This is a considerable value and very easy to convert into cash. Every winter 30% of the hives die and every day more and more people start beekeeping. So there is a high demand for hives and bees. All this makes it likely that thieves will steal the hives. There is a lot of demand, and they are unprotected in the solitude of the countryside.
Beekeepers openly admit that in the past, no one stole hives. But in recent years this is no longer the case. Theft is becoming an all too common crime.
What types of theft occur?
There is no single form of theft. There are several types of theft.
The thief closes the entrance to the hive and takes the whole hive. Later, he disposes of the hive or covers up the identification numbers.
This type of theft often occurs in greenhouses for pollinating crops, which are covered with plastic so that natural pollinators cannot do so. Many criminals steal the hives and then rent them to the greenhouse owners. In other cases, the thieves simply want to expand their operations at the expense of other beekeepers or to replace winter losses.
Late winter and early spring are favorite times for thieves. The hives have overwintered and the owner has fed and stimulated their activity. This is an ideal time for thieves. Nucs are also sought after by thieves because in the spring, demand is high.
Since hives are marked outside, some thieves decide to take their own empty hives and fill them with frames from the victim’s hives. This way, even if law enforcement inspects the hives, they will never get in trouble.
In some cases, but with increasing frequency, thieves take honey. They carry large knives and cut the threads and take the honey in baskets and leave the frames and hives. They are only interested in the honey.
This is a theft that is becoming more and more important. They only take bees. Sometimes they take all the bees and sometimes they take only one or two frames.
If all the bees are taken, the apiary is a desolate place and the death of the hive is guaranteed. There will be only a few newly hatched bees and they will not be able to start the hive. There will be unborn brood and honey, but the bees will disappear.
If they shake a frame or two, that is also very tricky. The beekeeper does not notice the flight. The hive is still active. The thief steals a discreet amount from each hive and creates swarms. The owner notices only a poor performance of his apiary, but he will not know why. There are cases of continuous theft for years without the beekeeper noticing.
What can the beekeeper do?
Cameras are another way for beekeepers to protect themselves. However, reality has shown that this is not a good way to protect against thieves.
First of all, they are very expensive. On the other hand, they have to meet a series of legal requirements to be valid in the eyes of the police. There have been cases of fines for having cameras without the theft victims being legalized. Sometimes the use of masks, or if the robbery took place at night, prevents the identity of the robber from being known. There have also been several cases where the thief has located the camera and, in addition to stealing the hives, has also stolen the camera.
The use of locators has worked well, but until recently, there were no well-designed devices and they were easily detected by thieves. Today, devices built into the frames themselves have come on the market and have proven to be very effective as thieves cannot know where they are and the beekeeper can recover his hives without too much difficulty. The use of these devices has been the main reason why, in some areas, thieves have stopped stealing hives and even frames and are stealing bees directly.
Bee theft is very profitable and there is no need to transport hives or use large vehicles. With a few bags, entire apiaries can be carried away. To solve this type of theft, we have seen only one method capable of preventing it.
In addition to frames with integrated GPS, some companies have developed an alarm that makes the apiary untouchable. This is an alarm powered by a car battery and connected wirelessly to motion sensors.
The motion sensors are placed on the covers of the hives and on the access road. Thus, when the thief accesses the apiary with his vehicle or when he lifts the hive covers to steal the bees, the audible alarm is triggered and the device calls the beekeeper to warn him of the theft. This way, the thief knows he has been detected and leaves the apiary immediately.
Where does theft take place?
Hive theft is not an exclusive problem in the USA. It has become a general problem in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Chile, France, etc. It is therefore a widespread problem in all countries. In our country, although it is a general problem, there are areas where it is more serious. Several associations have expressed their concern. Many beekeepers are seriously considering abandoning the activity because of the pressure of the thieves.
Unfortunately, at least for the time being, hive theft is hitting the profitability of beekeeping operations hard and does not seem to be abating.