LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KRON) – Hank the Tank is bigger than the average bear.
Weighing 500 pounds, the black bear was nicknamed by the South Lake Tahoe Police Department for its enormous size, partly achieved by breaking into dozens of homes and feasting on homeowners’ groceries.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering 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 KRON.
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 is classified as a “severely food-habituated bear,” meaning it associates people with access to food.
Some locals believe the bear is not only fearless, but 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.”
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,” wrote Ann Bryant, director of the BEAR (Bear Education Aversion Response) League. “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.”
The bear’s burglary 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 its size to bulldoze into homes.
Police officers recently spotted Hank inside a house in South Lake Tahoe.
“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 said.
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 Newsnation local affiliate KRON 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 to scare him away, 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.
“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,” Bryant wrote. “Thank you, everyone, for caring so deeply about this friendly big bear.”
The DFW’s most recent Hank the Tank news release read in part: “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,” it continued.
The CDFW said black bear placement could cause “significant negative consequences on their mental health.”
“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,'” it said.
The CDFW said placement facilities are required to be accredited and have necessary state and federal permits and meet its quality standards. It added that it had not yet found placement for Hank that met the Black Bear Policy criteria.”
The CDFW has asked the public to properly store food and garbage to discourage bear activity.