Beekeeper stung by $10k honey haul
A GOOMERI beekeeper is the latest to be stung by hive thieves keen to capitalise on medicinal honey prices and attractive pollination rates.
The recreational beekeeper had his branded hives stolen twice last month in what appear to be linked incidents.
Police say 24 hives in total were stolen from the man's property off the Wide Bay Hwy near Goomeri.
It is estimated the thieves took off with up to one million bees, along with their honey. With wholesale honey prices reaching almost $7 per kilogram, the stolen haul is worth more than $10,000.
This year's prices for honey have been some of the highest in years due to harsh weather conditions and disease wreaking havoc on Australian hives.
The theft has devastated the keeper, who family say works hard to produce the honey he sells locally.
Kingaroy Stock and Rural Crimes Investigations Squad Detective Sergeant Mark Ferling said the beekeeper was most likely targeted twice by the same culprits.
"More than $10,000 worth of honey has been stolen from that property in the past three weeks," Det Sgt Ferling said.
"Initial investigations show that there is more than one offender, due to the size of the hives and the weight of the honey.
"We're urging anyone who may have seen any suspicious activity to come forward."
Save the Bees chief executive officer Simon Mulvany said the price of honey, bee disease and pollination quota were drivers behind the crime.
"It's on the increase and it could happen anywhere," Mr Mulvany said.
"The scary thing for this beekeeper is it has happened before, so they'll know the bee site," he said.
Hive theft increase a sting to bee-keepers
It's a crime lesser known and on the stranger end of the spectrum, but beehive theft is on the increase according to one expert.
While the returns from honey are attractive, the real money-maker is the profit made from renting beehives for pollination.
Save the Bees founder Simon Mulvany said hive theft was a crime motivated by pollination, with almond season leaving many bee-keepers at risk.
"The almond population needs about 120,000 hives and you get paid up to $140 per hive you take there," Mr Mulvany said.
"The almond pollination season alone can turn some serious money."
The majority of horticultural crops are pollinated in whole or part by honeybees, with stone fruit and almond industries relying on the process.
If farmers struggle to source enough hives for pollination, bee-keepers are routinely targeted.
Mr Mulvany said almond pollination required substantial quotas that could sometimes not be met by individual bee-keepers as a result of hive disease or a bad weather season.
"Stealing a beehive is quite easy because hives are often placed in remote areas, bee-keepers are limited in the amount of spots they can put their hives and there's generally no surveillance," Mr Mulvany said.
"Then all it takes is blocking the entrance of the hive and taking it."
Mr Mulvany said it took expertise to understand how to properly move and care for a hive.
"The chances a thief is someone amongst the bee-keeping community is very likely," he said.
"They should know you don't mess with keepers because they're a very galvanised community.
A crime that reaps a sweet reward
Honey may be the last commodity you'd believe thieves would target, but the theft is not uncommon.
While its unusual for urban or backyard bee-keepers to be targeted, rural crime squads say the crime happens frequently in rural and regional areas due to the isolated areas in which bee hives are kept.
It is estimated bee pollination contributes to over $1 billion to Australian agricultural production each year, and honey can now fetch up to $7 per kg, making the crime an expensive one.
Kingaroy Stock and Rural Crimes Investigations Squad Detective Sergeant Mark Ferling said it was an offence that didn't receive substantial coverage but happened often.
"It's an easy crime because the majority of apiary sites are in isolated rural areas that aren't monitored by constant traffic," Det Sgt Ferling said.
"Honey is an expensive product and there would easily be tens of thousands of dollars worth of honey stolen each year."
Because of the nature of the crime, culprits can be hard to pin down because of the isolated area in which the crime occurred.
Det Sgt Ferling said the demographic most likely to commit the crime was other bee-keepers, due to unfavourable weather conditions and hive disease wiping out colonies.
"The majority of the time it's other bee-keepers doing it because they have the experience of working with bees and removing hives," Det Sgt Ferling said.
"The more hives someone has got the more bees they've got and the more honey they can sell, because honey makes money - it's liquid gold."
Det Sgt Ferling encouraged apiarists to install surveillance cameras on their properties and use GPS tracking devices.
If you have information about the hive thefts, phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or visit www.crimestoppers.com.au.