The small county of Medimurje in northern Croatia near the Hungarian border declared a natural disaster this month as it was discovered that 50 million bees were found dead.

Inspectors and forensic scientists are investigating to see what caused this tragedy, which appears to have been a mass poisoning. While it may be a national disaster, it hardly seems like a natural disaster. But by designating it a natural disaster, the state can compensate agricultural losses.

The English translation of this short 1:15-minute video is quite poor but this is the only current video of the event: 



It was reported in local media that beekeepers were shocked when they found a ‘carpet’ of millions of dead bees on June 9, 2020. Reports of how many hives were destroyed vary from 600 to 1150 hives, which amounts to roughly 50 million bees although the number may be higher.

The county official declared a natural disaster although the reason was as yet unknown or at least unverified. According to Croatian Beekeeping Association Zeljko Vrbos, about one-third of the area-wide beekeepers lost bees in this mass tragedy.

The Adriatic nation of Croatia is home to about 10,000 beekeepers and their 500,000 hives produce about 8.000 tons of honey every year according to Vrbos. But the bees in Croatia are valuable for more than their honey. They are critical pollinators that are necessary to modern farming and they boost annual yields of crops like fruit trees. Although this is a large loss of bees, Vrbos doesn’t believe it will seriously impact either honey output or pollination.

In Croatia, bees are owed a debt by humanity for another selfless reason. In 2013 worldwide headlines announced that specially trained ‘sniffer’ honeybees in Croatia were being trained to forage for and sniff out the TNT in unexploded landmines. Bees were taught over a period of four years to hunt explosives by associating the smell of TNT with food.

Dr. Ross Gillander, a physicist from St. Andrews University, helped design a detector to track when bees return to the hive with tiny traces of explosives. When they did, drone footage honed-in on the spot where bees acquired the traces.

Four years after these studies began, the Croatian honeybees were turned loose to find mines, and in 2018 the Dubrovnik Times reported that bees that were trained to detect explosives were successfully locating landmines in Croatia. This project has vast potential as there are millions of abandoned landmines around the world.

There were no clear findings on what caused the current dead honeybee disaster, but local beekeepers suspect pesticide poisoning. Authorities have ruled out a disease and have launched a probe into what caused such a massive die-off. Apparently, this is not the first time this region has experienced massive bee deaths. Local beekeepers also say that the Sava River is heavily polluted by antibiotics and that this may account for the poisoning.

An official and accurate result will be announced after officials complete a laboratory analysis. Let us all hope that justice will be done for these Croatian honeybees. If pesticides poisoned them, steps should be taken to ban all such pesticides capable of killing millions of bees at one time.