Maybe you weren’t aware, but bees are big business: With bee colonies mysteriously vanishing, hive owners can make a good income renting out their insects to farmers who need extra help with pollination. Those beekeepers will be happy to hear that authorities in California have busted a man suspected of stealing almost $1 million worth of bees and equipment.
Detectives with the Fresno County Sheriff’s agricultural task force have been investigating a string of beehive thefts since April.
“It’s like a chop shop for beehives.” —
Sergeant with Fresno County Sheriff’s Office
Police ultimately found an orchard where a man in a protective suit was tending to more than 100 hives that had been reported stolen. He was arrested charged with felony possession of stolen property.
Though the hives had been swiped from local farms, the bees actually belonged to a company in Missouri: Renting bees from out-of-state hives is essential to California almond growers, who need the bees in the spring to help pollinate their trees.
As the investigation continued, detectives found stolen bee hives from other states at two more locations.
Officials believe that the suspect is responsible for stealing hives in the last three years from different parts of California, redistributing them, and collecting the rental money. All told, he’s accused of stealing $885,000 worth of bees, hives, and other equipment.
“That’s the largest theft we’ve ever had,” a sergeant with the sheriff’s office told KFSN-TV.
Because beekeepers customize their hive boxes with identification numbers and different paint colors so they’re easily recognizable, the suspect allegedly repainted them, or used a grinder to remove identification numbers
“It’s like a chop shop for beehives,” one detective told the Associated Press. “They’re scattered all over the place.”
Authorities have contacted several owners of the hives and made arrangements to reunite them with their bees, including one victim who traveled from Montana to collect his boxes.
But although beekeepers may have their hives back, they’re still feeling the loss of rental income, equipment, and the queen bees needed for a healthy hive.
“We didn’t get everything back,” one beekeeper told the AP, estimating that her family’s business lost about $200,000 total. “The beehives are in horrible condition.”