One would assume that a bee-keeping community wouldn't be vulnerable to thieves. The lively creatures that sting back would seem an unlikely treasure for most. Surprisingly, they are a prized commodity as a Choteau, Montana beekeeper found himself the target of Ukrainian-Russian thieves.
According to the Great Falls Tribune, beekeeper Lloyd Cunniff reported 488 of his hives missing. He transported them to a property in California for the almond pollination season, which is where they were stolen. Cunniff was not the only one, as he is thought to be one of 10 victims that the Fresno County law enforcement believes was part of a Ukrainian-Russian heist. A total of $224,000 of equipment was stolen, and Cunniff estimates that that thieves made about $100,000 from the heist.
The agricultural task force has been investigating the Ukrainian-Russian beekeeping crime for a few years now. Unfortunately, these crimes give legitimate Ukrainian-Russian beekeepers a bad name. Fresno County Detective Anders Solis told the Great Falls Tribune,
"Usually they'll steal from each other, then if they steal a large amount, they'll steal from American companies and people like Lloyd. There were victims that were Russian-Ukrainian, also."
The crimes tend to increase around January when the almond pollination season begins.
Luckily for Cunniff, about two-thirds of his stolen hives and equipment were recovered. The stress it put on the bees, however, remains to be seen. For now, Cunniff is keeping the heisted hives quarantined off from his new hives in case they have become infected with disease.
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The bees will be kept under close watch to monitor whether or not they will return to normal. He won't know if they will be able to produce honey until the fall, which unfortunately will be the end of their life cycle.
While Cunniff has recovered some of his property, the investigation into Ukrainian-Russian bee-keeping crime continues. So far two arrest were made and 10 different hives have been recovered across three different properties.
The connection to the thievery may goes as far as Missouri, as a stolen hive in California matched a missing description. Due to the extent of the crime, the feds may have to step in. The authorities believe it may be part a a larger organized crime ring, and have found leads of suspects in North Dakota.
With bee populations dwindling and bee keeper's reporting up to 90 percent loss, crime like this can only hurt hive habitats. Bee keepers have enough to worry about with colony collapse on the rise, let alone thieves stealing their hives.
Even though Cunniff had a majority of his hives returned, damage still had been done. With bees being so precious to our environment as well as food supply, crimes like this have a larger impact than losing out on a source of income.
Despite all the trouble, Cunniff will still continue to cart his bees to California for the almond pollination season. He will, however, be keeping a closer eye on his hives.