Fred Tanneau / AFP via Getty Images
In France, beekeepers across the country are waking up to find their stolen hives. Theft is on the rise across the country, with beekeepers blaming a possible international network of beekeepers.
400 beehives were stolen last year. But by 2021, that number is more than 600, says Frank Aletru, president of the French National Beekeepers’ Union.
“It’s a very big problem for us in France,” Aleterne told Scott Simon Weekend edition. He says the thefts occur in several Western European countries.
“Beehive theft is a phenomenon that has always existed, but is now taking on a new dimension,” he said. In the past, thieves took honey supers – the part where honey is collected – just before harvest or one or two hives. “But now we are witnessing the emptying of apiaries” with more than a dozen “hives disappearing at once.”
Some beekeepers have found far more stolen. A beekeeper in Todour, in southeastern France, stole 25 hives at once in April, The times from London reported. In the Occitania region of southern France, a professional beekeeper lost 70 hives at a time, according to Le Parisien, out of a total of 157 hives stolen by four people in a week in March.
Bee populations are declining around the world for a variety of reasons, including farming practices, urbanization, and higher temperatures than climate change. Alétru blames a type of pesticide called neonicotinoids on “thousands and thousands” of bee families that die each year. According to the European Union, 10% of bee and butterfly species are endangered in Europe.
The decline in bee populations means that there is a premium in prices for others. There is a market both for the sale of beehives to amateur beekeepers and for the sale of locally produced honey.
The sophistication needed to successfully steal several hives at once means that the criminals are the beekeepers themselves, says Alétru. The hives should be taken at night because the bees will be inside. “You have to know the bees. They’re not amateurs. You have to be professional.”
Some beekeepers have stolen collections of hives worth tens of thousands of dollars, The Parisian reports.
Alétru suggests that some of the hives are sold to beekeepers in other countries.
He advises beekeepers to install infrared cameras on trees to catch the culprits. “Two thieves have already been caught this year thanks to this system,” he said. Another technique is to hide the GPS locator in the frame of the hive.
There are about 68,000 beekeepers in France. In the past, there was “silence” from beekeepers who did not want to report their stolen hives to the police. But Alétru wants them out.
He hopes that sanctions for theft will also be strengthened.
“Because bees are the mother of life on our planet. And we have to respect them. And we have to respect beekeepers.”
Ian Stewart, Ariana Aspuru and Ian Johnson produced the audio interview. James Dubeck produced for the network.