LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KRON) — The future is looking brighter for Lake Tahoe’s 500-pound bear, Hank the Tank.

On Thursday, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that the big black bear will not be taken to a sanctuary, nor euthanized, after an investigation revealed Hank was not as badly behaved as previously thought.

Earlier this week, the CDFW and police suspected Hank the Tank was responsible for breaking into at least 28 homes in the Tahoe Keys neighborhood and feasting on homeowners’ groceries.

Damages to homes were extensive from bear break-ins.

The bear is beloved by many longtime local residents who believe in the importance of co-existing with all wildlife.

“He hasn’t hurt one human. He’s very sweet,” Lake Tahoe resident Deanne Belardino told KRON4. “I love bears.”

Lake Tahoe is natural bear habitat.

Locals rallied to “Save Hank the Tank,” and shared a logo on social media featuring Hank on California’s state flag. The bear was nicknamed by the South Lake Tahoe Police Department.

Fortunately for Hank, CDFW officials uncovered DNA evidence showing Hank was not the only bear burglar in town.

“DNA has now proved Hank is not responsible for even half of the bear home incursions. There are three other bears who have been in more homes than Hank… but he was taking the rap… probably due to his size…. and extreme handsomeness,” the BEAR League nonprofit wrote.

“Hank no longer has a death sentence hanging over him and he is no longer going to have his freedom taken away from him by sending him to a sanctuary. We fully support this decision and are grateful for the investigation into the truth,” BEAR League wrote.

CDFW officials confirmed Thursday that Hank was wrongly blamed.

“While recent incidents of bears invading homes were originally thought to be a single bear, DNA evidence collected from the most recent incident, as well as prior incidents over the past several months, prove that at least three bears were responsible for breaking into numerous residences. Considering new evidence suggesting multiple bears are responsible for recent incidents, CDFW will work in coming weeks and months to trap bears in the South Lake Tahoe area, tag them, collect evidence for genetic analysis, and then release them into suitable habitat,” state wildlife officials wrote.

“During this effort, CDFW will gather information and learn from scientific analysis to help inform and refine our bear management in the Lake Tahoe Basin. CDFW is not going to euthanize any bears that are trapped during this effort,” state wildlife officials wrote.

For this effort to be successful, CDFW is asking for the following community support:

  • CDFW requests the Tahoe Keys and surrounding communities to collaborate on the placement of traps to protect both residents and the bears. Additionally, for traps to work, they must be left alone and not vandalized or harmed in any way.
  • It is critical that Tahoe Keys residents and everyone who lives or recreates in the Lake Tahoe Basin carefully store food and trash. Increasingly, CDFW is involved in bear/human conflicts that could have been avoided by people taking a few simple actions. Bears are primarily scent-driven when seeking food. Improperly stored human food and trash are likely attracting bears into this neighborhood.
  • CDFW has been reaching out to local governments and homeowners’ associations to educate residents and visitors of Lake Tahoe about “bear-proofing” homes, including installation of bear-proof garbage receptacles. CDFW will continue this important outreach and is exploring options to ensure that homes in the Lake Tahoe Basin are equipped with these receptacles.