Croatian authorities declared a natural disaster in the country's northernmost province after tens of millions of bees died from a suspected case of pesticide poisoning.
Beekeepers discovered carpets of dead swarms last week in the region of Medzimurje, near the border with Hungary. About 1,150 hives were wiped out, with about a third of the area's apiarists sustaining losses, Croatian Beekeeping Association Zeljko Vrbos said by phone Wednesday.
"We suspect pesticide is the cause," Vrbos said. "But the investigation is still ongoing, so nothing can be said for certain."
Agriculture Minister Marija Vuckovic told broadcaster RTL that an analysis had shown the insects didn't die of disease, but she refused to declare a cause until authorities conclude their probe.
The natural disaster declaration allows the state to pay compensation for agricultural losses. The Adriatic nation is home to about 10,000 beekeepers, whose 500,000 hives produce some 8,000 tons of honey a year, Vrbos said.
Bees are also crucial to modern farming, as they significantly boost the yields of crops ranging from rapeseed to fruit trees via pollination.
Still, they've faced intensifying threats this century from the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides, the spread of monoculture farming and other factors that have led to the death of millions of colonies globally.
Though the size of the die-off in Croatia is large, Vrbos said it remained a localized event.
"It's in a tiny location, so we don't expect a lower crop yield or a shortage of honey due to the loss of these bee colonies," said Vrbos.