New Zealand's black market for honey bees

Crime syndicates increasingly carrying out hive heists down under...

New Zealand's black market for honey bees

Picture by: Yves Logghe/AP/Press Association Images

The number of "hive heists" being carried out in New Zealand is rising rapidly, as crime syndicates look to capitalise on skyrocketing honey prices.

Kiwi police told Reuters on Tuesday that 400 bee or honey thefts had taken place in the last six months of 2016 alone, prompting authorities to start developing a database for tracking hive movements and improve their investigative procedures in the area.

Illegal activity has been encouraged by the fact that the honey business is booming in the nation – exports jumped 35% to a record NZ$315 million (€) in the year to June 2016. A third of that demand came China and Hong Kong.

Native Mānuka honey, which is used as an alternative medicine for skincare, digestive ailments and more, has tripled in value since 2012.

There are nearly 800,000 registered hives across the country, owned by some 6,000 apiarists, or beekeepers.

Picture by: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire/PA Images

Laurence Burkin, apiarist manager at The True Honey Co in Dannevirke, which has been hit by thieves told Reuters:

"It doesn't matter if it's beekeeping or meth, this is just the new gold rush."

While police have no evidence that a particular gang is to blame, they believe the offending has been organised by groups.

Bruce Roberston, managing director of Haines Apiaries in Kaitaia, told the news organisation:

"It's rife. Honey is overpriced, mate, it's ludicrous. There's easy money being made if you buy and sell hives."

Roberston himself had been suffering one or two hive robberies every week, forcing him to spend NZ$5,000 to increase the security of his roughly 3,000 hives.

Picture by: Barry Batchelor/PA Archive/PA Images

Senior Sergeant Alasdair MacMillan, the coordinator of community policing at New Zealand Police, told the TVNZ network:

"We were actually ignorant about bees because you think, bees, they're just hanging around the garden.

"I have learnt so much over the last 18 months, just the makeup of hives themselves is amazing."

Stuart Ferguson, a Wairarapa apiarist who lost $40,000 when 40 hives were stolen, called the police response "brilliant".

A public awareness campaign is planned for the near future.