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Honeybee Heists A New Reality In A Time Of Colony Collapse

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Katie Hayward, owner of Felin Honeybees, lifts out a honeycomb on her honeybee farm. Thieves have made off with some 45,000 honeybees from the farm in recent months.

Honey bees are being rustled.

Thieves are hijacking hives and renting the bees and their queens out to farmers to pollinate their crops. With the global collapse of the bee population, the crime is becoming even more lucrative.

It's an issue in the U.S., in California's Central Valley, but most recently, another bee theft caught our attention. On the tiny island of Angelsey, off the coast of North Wales, Felin Honeybees, a farm and education center, has been hit twice in the last month.

The bee burglars used a small box, called a nucleus, which is used for starting new hives, Felin owner Katie Hayward tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer.

"They've done what's called a 'bee shake,' which is where you hold the frames over the box and you shake the bees in," she explains. "So they can be stored in the boot of any car, I'm afraid."

They were able to make off with some 45,000 bees, including four queens, she says.

The bee bandits took bees that the center had bred for calmness, to be used for teaching. Hayward says the pilferers must have had some expertise.

"They knew exactly what they were taking," Hayward says. "There's been a huge surge in beekeeping as a hobby, and the demand for new nucleuses has risen over 75 percent in the last five years."

Interview Highlights

On the impossibility of tagging bees with identifying markers so they can be tracked

The unfortunate thing is, you can't trace the bees once they're away from the hive. ... A honeybee, a normal worker bee, this time of year, only has a lifespan of about 40 days, so unfortunately there's nothing on the market to spray your bees with.

On finding the center was filched by fellow beekeepers

It's been devastating to us here, because all of the beekeepers in the whole of north Wales, our country, know what we do here at Felin. We use these bees to teach children with special needs, and we use these bees to teach people not to be frightened of bees. So for someone to come to our home and willingly take them, you feel violated, and I feel hugely disappointed that one beekeeper is tarnishing what we hold dear. We look after each other as beekeepers. It's a very difficult profession to do. ...

The farm we live on is over 750 years old, and we've always felt quite safe. It's been a big eye-opener.

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