If life gives you honey thieves, make them honey experts

In 1926, writer and playwright Alan Alexander Milne published one of the most emblematic characters of children's tales: Winnie the Pooh.

Among the many characters created by the imagination of A. A. Milner, one gained global star status and became the loyal companion for all the adventures of Christopher Robin (the name of Milner’s son, who had a teddy bear – the source of inspiration for the literary character). Pooh is a honey-loving bear who has brightened the childhood of millions of children all over the world for almost a century.

A bear who loves the sweet, sweet bee nectar is not news. But a bear who becomes a gastronomical critic – a real honey connoisseur – is a tad bit more uncommon. Surprising, at least! But it did indeed happen, in Trabzon, Turkey.

Beehives destroyed and without honey.

Turkish beekeeper and agricultural engineer Ibrahim Sedef had a problem in hand. His honey was being stolen every night by a gang of bears. Despite having set up bee cages, metal bars, and honey, bread and fruits as a distraction, the bears would not give up.

Morning after morning, Sedef found his beehives destroyed and without honey.

This situation kept going for about three years, and the beekeeper counted his theft-related losses up to the 10-thousand-dollar mark. The only reasonable approach was to follow the saying “If you can’t beat them, join them”. And so Sedef decided to use the furry thieves’ gluttony to his advantage and test the quality of his honey.

If you can’t beat them… give them honey

Before the petty thieves’ insistence, Sedef decided to organise a honey tasting with its biggest fans: the bears themselves. He proceeded to set up a table with four honey varieties, Kestane Bali, Visne, Cicek Bali e Anzer Bali, the latter being a premium variety, then he set up night cameras and waited for his usual visitors.

The bears returned that same night as expected, and before heading to the hives they stopped around the set-up. With very little hesitation, one of the bears ignored completely three of the four honeypots and went straight for the Anzer Bali variety – that’s right, the premium variety. You’d think the glutton bear would have been sated, but that was not the case. In the video shared by the beekeeper, the very same bear tried to rob the beehives again, but Sedef managed to scare the petty thief away.

The beekeeper later confessed that, despite all the damage caused by the bears, he understood and was not mad. He even said he adored his dedicated honey tasters. Clearly, they have refined taste, since this honey variety sells for 300 dollars per kilogram.

Biodiversity matters

In May 2019 another story involving bears made it to the news, but this time in Portuguese TV. A brown bear, a species long extinct in Portuguese territory, stole around 50 kilograms of honey from an apiary in Bragança, on the northern border between Portugal and Spain.

Brown bear in a forest.

Brown bear, an extinct species in the Portuguese territory.

Just like Ibrahim Sedef, the Portuguese beekeeper who saw his honey stolen was not angry or mad at the thief, he was actually very happy. As it happens, the last known brown bear to inhabit Portugal was shot in 1843. Since then, the species has never been spotted again. However, there is a brown-bear population in the Cantabrian mountain range, in northern Spain, and the bear that appeared in Portugal, greedy in the best Winnie the Pooh style, belongs to this group.