A Northland family is devastated after almost all of their 50 beehives were destroyed and about two million bees killed by an unknown attacker.
The wrecked hives, which were behind a locked gate on an east coast property, belonged to the Murray whānau's award-winning Kai Ora Honey business at Awanui.
Chief executive Blanche Morrogh said the damage was discovered on August 19.
The hives, which were stacked four or five to a pallet, had been flipped upside-down and the lids pulled off. The damage could not have been caused by cattle because multiple sites had been hit and the straps had been cut cleanly with a sharp instrument.
Whoever was responsible had deliberately set out to kill the bees, Morrogh said.
The cost of replacing the hives would be about $30,000, not counting lost production, but the whānau's real concern was for the bees.
''We're just saddened that anyone would be that low. For us the gutting part for us is our poor bees. They're like out pets. If someone did that to your dog or cat you'd be pretty upset too.''
A few of the bees were still alive but it was not clear whether they would survive, she said.
Between 40,000 and 60,000 bees are in each hive at this time of year, so a total of about 2,500,000 have been lost.
Beehive thefts were fairly common at the start of the season but last week's vandalism was different and likely related to competition for beehive sites in the so-called ''honey wars''.
''This wasn't the normal carry-on. This was someone trying to take down a small family business. It's despicable and disgusting. Everyone knows we're not a Comvita, we're not a big corporate. We put our blood, sweat and our tears into our hives,'' Morrogh said.
Insurance would cover some of the damage but not lost production, which would be significant if they couldn't replace the hives quickly.
''There's only a small window of about 6-8 weeks to produce high-grade honey and the season's already under way. If we miss three or four weeks we've pretty much missed the season.''
If someone had an issue with their hives they could have simply talked to the family, Morrogh said.
Kai Ora was founded by the Murray siblings, aged between 13 and 27 at the time, when their father died at the age of 44.
Morrogh said they had built the business up from nothing and tried to give back to the community in an area that grappled with high unemployment, low incomes and limited opportunities for success.
They also helped other small-time beekeepers in the Far North by buying their honey at better prices than the big companies offered, allowing them to share in the benefits of honey exports.
Kaitaia police are investigating security camera footage in the hope of identifying the vehicle involved. They are also following up a number of tips provided by the public after a Facebook post about the attack was shared more than 1100 times.
Kai Ora's mānuka honey is shipped to the US, the EU, Australia, Asia and the Middle East.
In 2017 Morrogh was named the Young Māori Business Leader of the Year in the Auckland University Māori Business Awards.
■ If you have any information about the destruction of the beehives, which occurred some time between Wednesday, August 14, and Monday, August 19, call the Kaitaia police station on (09) 408 6500 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111. Police believe whoever destroyed the beehives had knowledge of the industry.