Sticky bandits: Millions lost from Beehive thefts

Sam Hurley, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 6 February 2018, 8:42PM
Sergeant Andrew Graham and Bryan Rogers of Beagle's Bees check some hives after 38 were stolen near Hastings in July 2016 (Warren Buckland)
Sergeant Andrew Graham and Bryan Rogers of Beagle's Bees check some hives after 38 were stolen near Hastings in July 2016 (Warren Buckland)
New Zealand's honey industry is losing millions of dollars every year as organised thieves target the hives and manufacturers of the golden product. Now the offending has becoming increasingly brazen with hundreds of kilograms of honey stolen at any one time, before being on-sold to a black market of local and international buyers. The Herald investigates this hive of crime.

Immediately it looked like a professional job.

The target was 480kg of ready-for-export manuka honey.

The cost of the shipment was more than $33,000.

And when staff arrived at Azurelife International in Auckland's East Tamaki on June 5, 2016, they knew exactly what had happened.

"I found the door was open, I immediately saw the cables to the burglar alarm and the CCTV cameras had been cut," the company's manager, Simon Sun, told a court last month.

He had become yet another victim in an increasing attractive market for criminals.

Rural New Zealand has been hit hardest, with criminals targeting the honey at its source - 
by stealing the hives from the beekeepers.

Sun's company was targeted because it had a successful reputation for exporting honey products to China, where the demand for New Zealand's manuka honey is high due to its believed health benefits.

When he inspected the perimeter of the Azurelife property he found the steel gate smashed in, the power cut, and an obvious beeline from the burglary site to the back of the complex.

The burglars knew exactly what they wanted and where to find it, he told the Auckland District Court.

Inside was a new shipment of two large pallets, full of 360 500g honey pots and 300 1kg honey jars.

"I believe the offenders may have known about the delivery," Sun said.

It was a huge honey heist - one of several in the past couple of years - and one of many crimes which eventually led police to change the way they chase these sticky bandits.

There is no figure yet on the annual cost of crime for the honey industry, but Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos estimates it to be in the millions.

"It's devastating for those beekeepers that are targeted by thieves," she told the Herald.

"The value of a single hive can range from the set-up cost through to maintenance and protection to harvest – starting from $500 to $1000 – but not only does the beekeeper have to replace the hive, there's also the loss of seasonal earnings," she said.

The total value of honey exports was $330 million for the June 2017 financial year, Kos said, but a look at the wider apiculture industry puts an estimated worth of more than $5 billion to the New Zealand economy.

"This comes from an increasingly diverse revenue stream derived from honey and bee products, including increasing demand for pollination services with the growth of New Zealand's horticulture and arable seed sectors," she said.

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) reports that New Zealand produces between 15,000 and 20,000 tonnes of honey each year, depending on climatic conditions, and we ship it to almost 40 countries.

The value of New Zealand's manuka industry alone could also grow from an estimated $75m in 2010 to $1.2b per annum, MPI estimates.



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