The story about the theft of bees from an Abbotsford farm is becoming clearer, and it is showing the breathtaking moxie of a rogue bee-keeper.
When Abbotsford Police first reported the theft Monday, they said owner Fred Hanefeld indicated 100 frames containing 500,000 bees and 8,000 pounds of honey worth $100,000 had been stolen. To any bee-keeper, those numbers don’t add up. So I checked back with Abbotsford police, who contacted Hanefeld again, and indeed there was a mistake.
It turns out what was stolen was 1,100 frames — in other words, the contents of 110 single-box hives, or 55 double-box hives. Hanefeld is a a 76-year-old elder statesmen of B.C.’s small but established bee-keepers. I’ve not been able to contact him yet, but Global TV did a decent interview with him and others. The link is at the bottom of this post.
At $40 a frame – the value of a standard frame, according to John Gibeau at the Honey Bee Centre in Surrey – the loss is $44,000. That’s still a stunning loss for a business that is both labour-intensive and a labour of love.
What’s more alarming is that this was the second theft the bee-keeper reported in a week; the previous Monday he’d reported $4,000 worth of bees and frames had been poached from another of his yards. But that theft didn’t register on the police blotter’s media reports because of its relatively small size.
The surprising thing for beekeepers is that this appears to be part of a new trend in hive thefts where the contents — not the boxes themselves — are stolen by someone who clearly is a bee-keeper. Last month Bill Termeer, a bee-keeper in Teepee Creek, Alberta near Grande Prairie found that someone had stolen the contents of 150 of his 3,000 hives. Replacement comb had been put back into the hive to disguise the theft.
Paul van Westendorp, B.C.’s provincial apiculturist, told me Tuesday the thefts have an “uncanny resemblance” to a series of thefts in the southern Okanagan a few years back in which frames, bees and honey were stolen but boxes left in place.
He said his staff is going through old records and is also combing recent inspection reports to identify if any bee-keeper has had a suspicious bump in production that can’t be attributed to good beekeeping practices or the purchase of nucs or packages. He said this may be the work of a bee-keeper who is close to bankruptcy or being wiped out by bad losses and who simply steals someone else’s stock.
van Westendorp said this type of theft is particularly ingenious because the thieves would look like ordinary beekeepers to the average person. And because there are veils and suits involved, the identity of the bee-keeper is pretty disguised.
van Westendorp suggested beekeepers “tend to be naive” about security around their expensive hives, trusting that no one would bother to steal them. But every year he hears reports of one or two hives — about the amount that an fit into a pickup truck — go missing. In the United States, whole apiaries have been known to go missing after being visited by a semi-truck loaded with a forklift. But the scale of those thefts hadn’t really been known in Canada – at least not until now.
The scale of this theft is breathtaking, van Westendorp said, especially since it meant someone had to have 110 empty boxes to put the frames into.
Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald says Hanefeld has gone into protective mode. After two back-to-back losses he thinks someone’s targeting him and is now looking at trying to increase security around his remaining yards.
That’s not a bad idea for any bee-keeper to do, van Westendorp says. Blocking access to hives, locking gates, making sure farmers know whose allowed to be at the hives are all good strategies for making it harder for bees to be stolen. But he notes that “any person who is determined to steal your hives will be successful.”
Theft aside, vandalism is the biggest problem most beekeepers face from the public. Hives located on remote forest roads, in rural places frequented by hunters or other out-of-eyesight locations can be a problem.
van Westendorp recounted how when he was working up in the Peace country a number of lovely white hives were being used for target practice by “the gun rack behind the seat crowd.” The problem stopped immediately once the bee-keeper repainted the hives poplar green.
One thing is for sure: the issue of bee thefts will be a hot topic at this fall’s annual general meeting of the B.C. Honey Producers’ Association in Kamloops.
Here’s the Global BC television interview with Hanefeld.