LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KRON) — Hank the Tank is bigger than the average bear.
Weighing in at 500 pounds, the black bear was nicknamed by the South Lake Tahoe Police Department for its enormous body size, achieved by breaking into dozens of homes and feasting on homeowners’ groceries.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is weighing its options for how to handle Hank.
The bear is beloved by many longtime local residents who believe in the importance of co-existing with all of Tahoe’s wildlife.
“He’s famous. We’re trying to save him, even though he’s a troublemaker,” Lake Tahoe resident Deanne Belardino told KRON4.
Hank the Tank has broken into 28 homes and prompted more than 100 calls to police over the past seven months. The bear was recorded lumbering around by a home security camera in the Tahoe Keys neighborhood last week.
CDFW officials said the bear does not fear people and its classified as a “severely food-habituated bear.”
Some locals believe the bear is not only fearless, it’s also friendly.
“He hasn’t hurt one human in 28 break-ins. He’s very sweet,” Belardino said.
“He likes pizza more than he likes berries. He’s not a forager,” she added.
State wildlife officials set up a bear trap, and fans of Hank the Tank are worried that CDFW will kill the bear.
“Hank is being targeted for death by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The BEAR League is vehemently opposed to this plan, and we are frantically working to save his life by reaching out to various wildlife sanctuaries in hopes of finding him a safe home,” BEAR League Director Ann Bryant wrote.
The bear’s burglar career began when Hank figured out that some homeowners leave windows and doors unlocked.
“Hank hangs out in the Keys quite often because he has been continuously rewarded with food stored in unsecured garages. The Key’s management has not allowed bear boxes because they deem them ‘unsightly’,” Bryant wrote.
When the bear became bigger and bolder, it started smashing through windows, using his size to bulldoze into homes.
Police officers recently spotted Hank inside a house on Catalina Drive.
“He shattered a window and crawled in, causing tons of damage to the inside and outside of the house. This is becoming common for him,” Lake Tahoe police wrote.
State wildlife officials have not disclosed their final decision for Hank’s future.
Belardino said the majority of Lake Tahoe residents are hoping that Hank will be sent to a sanctuary and not euthanized.
Bryant told KRON4 on Monday that, so far, the CDFW has been uncooperative with sanctuaries offering to help.
“The BEAR League has talked to the directors of three sanctuaries who have told us they are willing to work with the DFW and, hopefully, help get Hank off the streets and into a good home. We have given this information to the supervisors within the DFW who are tasked with trapping and killing Hank. So far, they have not reached out to any of the sanctuaries to discuss this dire situation,” the BEAR League wrote.
The Lake Tahoe Police Department trains its police officers on how to properly scare a bear.
Police tried to “haze” Hank with deterrents, but the big bear was not fazed enough to leave the Keys neighborhood.
“Our officers are trained to use deterrents such as loud sirens, dry-firing their tasers (makes a clicky-clack noise that the bears hate!), and beanbag rounds to remind bears that it’s not very nice to break people’s property! We want them to go back to their homes in the forest,” LTPD wrote.
The bear’s fanbase has grown due to recent publicity in the New York Times.
Bryant wrote, “The phones at the BEAR League have been ringing continuously with calls from literally all over the world. Everyone is expressing their horror over the plans to kill Hank. Thank you, everyone, for caring so deeply about this friendly big bear.”
The DFW’s most recent Hank the Tank news release is below:
“The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is conducting a special trapping effort for a specific male bear, weighing approximately 500 pounds, in the Tahoe Keys area of South Lake Tahoe. These traps represent official state business to capture a specific and “severely food-habituated bear” defined as a conflict bear under CDFW’s 2022 Black Bear Policy in California. Food-habituated means that the animal has lost its fear of people and is associating people with access to food.”
“For more than seven months, and despite intense hazing and other mitigation efforts, this bear has caused extensive property damage in 33 documented cases and forcefully entered at least 28 homes in and near the Tahoe Keys. This bear is extremely food-habituated and has used its immense size and strength to break in and through front doors and garage doors. There have been, at last count, 102 individual reports of local police responses to this bear, including multiple hazing events to discourage the bear from breaking into homes and seeking human food sources.”
“When combining CDFW data with information from local police agencies, CDFW has 152 reports of conflict behavior from this animal. This bear is readily identifiable due to its exceptionally large size and dark coat with lighter muzzle. Additionally, CDFW has collected the bear’s DNA and created a DNA profile to allow for 100 percent accurate identification of the bear.”
“While the Lake Tahoe area has a healthy and dense bear population, euthanizing an animal is always our last option. CDFW is currently evaluating the possibility of placement of this bear when captured. As detailed in our recently updated Black Bear Policy in California, there are several requirements that must be met to consider placement of a wild adult black bear.”
“Placement of adult black bears can have significant negative consequences on their mental health and must be considered when evaluating placement options. To quote from our Black Bear Policy: ‘Adult bears may be poor candidates for placement due to the chronic stress of adjusting to captivity after living in only wild conditions.’ To be considered, placement facilities must be accredited, have necessary state and federal permits to receive animals, and meet CDFW’s standards for quality of facilities. At the time of this post, CDFW has not identified a placement option for this bear that meets the criteria of the Black Bear Policy.”
“The outcome for this food-habituated bear could have been avoided with a few simple actions. Bears are primarily scent-driven when seeking food. As such, we ask again that everyone remain vigilant and act responsibly by properly storing food and garbage while living in – or visiting – bear habitat.”
To learn more about keeping black bears wild, read the CDFW’s fact sheet here.