It’s a sting being felt by beekeepers across province.
And now the deliberate poisoning of hundreds of thousands of bees at multiple locations in the Rural Municipality of Elton has left apiarists and the RCMP looking for answers.
“We came to the first yard and there were just piles of dead bees all over on the ground, we had been going there to pick up honey, but the honey boxes were completely empty except for more dead bees,” said Jason Loewen, operator of the Steinbach-based Loewen Honey Farms.
“Right in front of the hives they were an inch to two inches thick, but then the whole yard, which is probably 30 feet wide and 60 feet long, the whole areas was just covered in dead bees.”
Provincial apiarist, Rheal Lafreniere, said he has never encountered a case like this in his nearly two decades on the job.
“The important thing — if you think it’s chemical related — is to get a sample and try to preserve that sample as much as possible, because you’re going two have to identify what was the causing agent,” Lafreniere said.
And while some viruses can mimic the effects of insecticides, such as neurological impairment, he added that external factors in this case appear to make it likely that the cause of death was not natural.
Loewen notes that a sticky residue was found on top of the affected hives, which has now been sent for analysis, along with samples of dead bees and material from inside the hives.
Furthermore, threats had been previously made against the affected hives.
“It was another beekeeper,” Loewen said. “He had threatened to burn the hives, because I guess he thought we were in his territory, but we had full permission to put the bees on the farmer’s land.”
Brandon RCMP are now appealing for public for assistance, asking anyone with information on the matter to contact them directly or through Crime Stoppers.
It is believed that the bee yards, located six and 10 miles northwest of Brandon, were attacked sometime between August 14 and September 3.
Approximately 180 hives were damaged, with 60 being completely wiped out, Loewen said.
He estimates it will cost about $18,000 to replace the destroyed colonies, and said he is also out between $15,000 and $20,000 in lost honey revenue. The frames and boxes will also likely need to be replaced.
“Now we’ll just take care of the remaining hives, and we’ll probably have to buy more in the spring,” said the beekeeper, adding he is also considering installing some security features in the bee yards to prevent future attacks.
“If some one does that sort of thing, you have to wonder what else they might do,” said Loewen. “Obviously he doesn’t enjoy what he does … he wouldn’t go out and kill those same creatures if he did.”
Allan Campbell, president of the Manitoba Beekeepers Association, said there has been some confusion in mainstream media reports about the nature of the bee deaths, associating the massive die-off to routine pesticide use, but he stressed that this was not the case and that it’s important people are aware that this was a deliberate act.
“It is starting a conversation, though,” he added, noting that beekeeping is an industry unlike any other.
“Bees are pretty unique in that they are livestock on the one hand, but on the other hand they’re not fenced or caged, and they do have a tendency to go out and they will fly up to two miles really, to collect nectar and pollen,” he said.
“Sometimes conflicts arise with neighbours, who maybe have a swimming pool that is attracting bees, or maybe their flower beds are full of bees and they’re nervous about working there with them, and in some cases beekeepers will dispute territor… but it’s about communication and forming relationships,” said Campbell. “Normally you can resolve issues without having to poison somebody else’s hives.”