It’s not easy for a 500 pound bear to sneak through a neighborhood – and it seems impossible for a bear to break into a house through a small window. But the animal known as Hank the Tank is no ordinary bear: the California Wildlife Agency says it broke into at least 28 homes in South Lake Tahoe, adding that is responsible for “152 reports of conflicting behavior”.
Hank is a “very food-loving bear,” the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said, adding that the term “means the animal has lost its fear of people and associates people with access to the food”.
The bear “has used its immense size and strength to penetrate and climb through front doors and garage doors” for the past seven months or so, the agency said.
The most recent incident occurred late last week, when local police were called to a home on Catalina Drive for “a report of Hank inside a home,” according to the department. South Lake Tahoe Police Department. The ministry released photos showing a wooden fence with broken boards and a small window.
To flush out Hank, two officers “banged on the outside of the house until he exited a back door,” the police department said, adding that officers remained in the area to make sure that the huge bear did not approach other houses.
South Lake Tahoe Police Department
“This bear did not break into a garage where there was trash that he was sniffing,” police said. “He broke into a safe house, through the small window in the photo, and somehow slipped inside.”
The state says it has launched a “special entrapment effort” to remove Hank the Tank from the Tahoe Keys area in South Lake Tahoe. After he is detained, officials will have to decide whether he can be placed in a controlled habitat or whether he should be euthanized – an outcome the agency says “is still our last option”.
The BEAR League, a local nonprofit that aims to protect bears, says Hank is “targeted to death” by the state agency. He adds that he is “working frantically to save her life by approaching various wildlife sanctuaries in hopes of finding her a safe home.”
The group also said it agrees with the state’s assessment that “relocation to bear habitat elsewhere in the wild is not an option,” saying it hopes the officials will find a suitable new home for Hank.
The BEAR League and local police note that Tahoe Keys, a neighborhood police say Hank “adopted,” has rules that prohibit “stand-alone temporary storage structures (including Bear Boxes).”
Bear boxes are trash enclosures designed to be animal resistant.
“Hank hangs out in the Keys quite often because he’s been continually rewarded with food stored in unsecured garages (Key management hasn’t allowed bear boxes because they deem them ‘unsightly’) “, said the BEAR League.
But it looks like Keys policy has now been revised, or at least clarified. In an update to its posting, the police department said Keys residents can call their homeowners association to request a bear box.
Local and state agencies are urging Tahoe-area residents to be careful about how they store food and garbage, whether residents or visitors.
State officials are hoping Hank can avoid the sad fate of another famous Tahoe-area bear, a 500-pound fellow nicknamed the “Safeway Bear” who was filmed in 2020 ravaging the produce section of a grocery and candy aisle ransacked from a gas station in the community of Kings Beach in northern Lake Tahoe.
Like Hank, this bear had lost his fear of people. He was known to “scavenge for food and hold meetings at Kings Beach, help himself to birthday cake and other treats and cause widespread concern,” the national wildlife agency said.
The bear was eventually trapped, tagged and released into a remote wild habitat in El Dorado County. His tracking collar was found in the woods in the spring of 2021, leading biologists to hope he had “successfully transitioned to a natural diet” and lost weight, allowing the collar to slip off. But the truth was more tragic: The bear was shot and killed at an Alpine County campsite, after repeatedly breaking into a campsite where a family reunion included young children.
The once-mammoth bear “was a shell of himself, completely emaciated, his teeth rotting,” the wildlife agency said. He quoted a state biologist as saying, “Ultimately, the shooter’s actions were the most humane outcome for this bear.”