Beekeepers Turn to Technology to Prevent Hive Theft

26 February 2022

Rising beehive thefts in the United States have led beekeepers to use different kinds of technology to protect their property.

Beekeepers in California are preparing for one of the largest pollination events in the world. The event involves beekeepers from across the United States transporting billions of honeybees to the state. California almond growers pay the beekeepers to use the insects to pollinate the state's most valuable crop.

The bees will arrive in California as beehive thefts have been rising. The problem has become so common that beekeepers are now using tracking devices, cameras and other technology to protect their insect investments.

Beekeeper Helio Medina displays a beehive frame outfitted with a GPS locater that will be installed in one of the beehives he rents out, in Woodland, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Beekeeper Helio Medina displays a beehive frame outfitted with a GPS locater that will be installed in one of the beehives he rents out, in Woodland, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Hive thefts have also been reported in other parts of the country. One food company in Pennsylvania recently lost about 60,000 bees to theft at a pollination field. The problem is more widespread in California because of the huge pollination event.

In recent weeks, 1,036 beehives worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were reported stolen from farms across California, state officials say.

The largest theft involved 384 beehives taken from a field in Mendocino County in northern California. This led a beekeepers association to offer $10,000 to anyone with information that could lead to the hives' recovery.

"It's hard to articulate how it feels to care for your hives all year only to have them stolen from you," Claire Tauzer wrote in an appeal for help on Facebook. One day later, a person came forward with information that led officials to recover most of the missing beehives, as well as a piece of farming equipment. One suspect was arrested.

Investigators also found other hive equipment belonging to Helio Medina, another beekeeper who lost 282 hives a year ago.

Medina said the theft greatly damaged his operations. This year, he decided to place GPS trackers inside beehive boxes. He also attached locks to them and put cameras nearby.

"We have to do what we can to protect ourselves. Nobody can help us," Medina told The Associated Press.

Thefts usually happen at night, when no one is at the farm and the bees are back in their hives. Many thefts are carried out by beekeepers or people involved in transporting bees.

"More often than not, they steal to make money and leave the bees to die," said Rowdy Jay Freeman, a Butte County sheriff's detective who has been keeping track of hive thefts since 2013.

The demand for bees has risen over the last 20 years as the popularity of almonds turned California into the world's biggest producer. The amount of land used to grow almonds has also more than doubled to an estimated 526,000 hectares.

For beekeepers, the loss of a hive means the loss of income from honey production and future pollination, as well as the costs to run the hive throughout the year. Many struggle to make a profit under such conditions.

Denise Qualls helps connect beekeepers with growers. She decided to team up with technology company Bee Hero to equip hive boxes with GPS-enabled sensors.

Freeman, from the sheriff's department, got into beekeeping himself after investigating his first hive theft. He advises beekeepers to use security cameras and to put their names and telephone numbers on the boxes.

Freeman said some beekeepers are also using a tracking device called SmartWater CSI. It is a tool used to help police find and recover stolen property. The system uses a clear liquid that can only be seen under ultraviolet light. That permits police to identify stolen property even when thieves try to disguise it.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

theft – n. the action or crime of stealing something

pollinate – v. to give (a plant) pollen from another plant of the same kind so that seeds will be produced food

track – v. to record the progress of development of something over a period of time

articulate – v. to express ideas and feelings clearly in words

GPS (Global Positioning System) – n. a system of computers and satellites that work together to tell users where they are

disguise – v. to change the way something looks in order to hide it