500,000 bees stolen from Hawke's Bay honey company

Beekeepers blame an "underground element" for the stinging loss.
Beekeepers blame an "underground element" for the stinging loss. Photo credit: Supplied

Nearly half a million bees have been stolen from the Hawke's Bay, in a stinging loss for the region's largest honey company.

Arataki Honey has just lost 19 hives of bees from a remote pine forest block in Northern Hawke's Bay.

Arataki beekeeper Duncan Johnstone made the latest discovery on Monday, and says in his 20 years on the job bee thieving is at its worst.

"I'm really annoyed because we put a lot of work into these hives over the winter, feeding the bees and running varroa mite protection. It's really gutting that this hard work has been put to waste," he says.

"The industry used to be a real gentleman's game and now all of a sudden this 'underground' element has crept in. It's hugely disappointing."

Arataki Honey John Walsh's says it will cost about $20,000 in losses.

"I think it was a planned operation and the person who took them was someone who knew what they were doing. You don't just take off with a boot load of bees without having some beekeeping expertise," he says.

Mr Walsh says it's challenging to monitor rural and remote sites.

"We're working hard on security and trying to get the hives behind locked gates, but these guys know what they are doing."

Last season Arataki had 16 hives stolen off the Napier-Taupo Road. These two thefts have prompted the company to begin installing better surveillance systems in remote areas.

"We need to be monitoring these rural areas better. We are concerned that the problem's becoming more widespread as the honey industry is on the up," says Mr Walsh.

Mr Johnstone says the thieves sifted through the best hives where bee numbers were highest, leaving five hives that weren't in as good condition.

"Manuka Honey is driving the crime as it is now one of New Zealand's highest priced exports."

Chief Executive of Apiculture New Zealand Karin Kos says Police are taking the increase in honey and beehive thefts, extremely seriously.

"Honey and beehive theft has become a growing issue for New Zealand beekeepers over the last few years, with the total value of these thefts estimated in the millions."

Ms Kos says Apiculture New Zealand and Police have been working together to address the issue, including improving intelligence at a national and regional level, as well as educating beekeepers on actions to help keep their honey and hives safe.

Police encourage anyone with information related to the theft of honey and bees to contact Police through their local Police station, or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.