In France, apiculturists throughout the country wake up to find their hives stolen. Theft across the country has been increasing, with beekeepers blameing a possible international network of beekeepers.
400 hives were stolen last year. But in 2021, that figure was over 600, according to Frank Alétru, president of the French national beekeeping union.
“For us in France, it’s a big problem,” Alétru told Scott Simon on the weekend edition. He says theft occurs in several Western European countries.
“Beehive robbery is a phenomenon that has always been there, but now takes on a new dimension,” he says. In the past, honey supermarkets—the part where honey is collected—would be taken by the thieves just before harvest, or a few hives. “Now however, we see apiaries emptied with more than a dozen hives, all of which disappear at once.”
Some beekeepers found much more stolen. The Times of London reported that a beekeeper in Thodure, in southeastern France, had stolen 25 hives at once in April. According to Le Parisien, 70 of a total of 157 hives stolen from four people in a week in March were lost by professional beekeepers in Occitanie, southern France.
Bee populations around the world declined for a number of reasons, including agricultural practises, urbanisation and higher climate change temperatures. Alétru blames “thousands and thousands” of bee colonies dying each year for a kind of pesticide called neonicotinoids. In Europe, 10% of bee and butterfly species are endangered according to the European Union.
The decrease in bee populations means that prices for the remaining ones are priced premium. There is a market for the sale of hives to aficionados and the sale of local honey.
The sophistication required to steal several hives successfully means that the criminals are apiculturists themselves, says Alétru. Hives must be taken at night because the bees are going to be inside. “You must know the bees. They’re not amateurs. You must be professional.”
Le Parisien has reported that some beekeepers have stolen hives worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Alétru speculates that in other countries some of the hives are sold to beekeepers.
He recommends for beekeepers to set up infrarot cameras in trees to catch the perpetrators. “This year, thanks to this system, two thieves were already caught,” he says. Another method is to hide a GPS locator in the hive frame.
In France there are approximately 68,000 beekeepers. In the past, beekeepers were unwilling to report their stolen hives to the police. But Alétru wants to come up with them.
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