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Over the last seven months, a 500-pound black bear known as Hank the Tank has broken into at least 28 homes and is responsible for at least 152 reports of what the California Department of Fish and Wildlife calls “conflict behavior” near the Tahoe Keys area of South Lake Tahoe. 

Hank is “severely food-habituated,” the wildlife department says, meaning that he has lost all fear of people and now associates humans with access to food. The state agency is conducting a “special trapping effort” to capture the bear, with the intention of either relocating Hank to a sanctuary or euthanizing him. 

California’s wildlife agency says Hank, at 500 pounds, is “exceptionally large,” and he is undeterred by tasers, sirens, beanbag rounds, or other “hazing” efforts. The bear uses “its immense size and strength to break in and through front doors and garage doors,” the agency wrote in a blog post on Thursday. Hank started intruding in homes in Tahoe Keys in July, and his trespasses have not stopped since, leading some to think that he never hibernated—something that can happen if bears have consistent access to food. 

“He didn’t get fat like that eating berries and grubs,” Ann Bryant, the executive director of the Bear League, a local nonprofit that aims to protect bears, told The New York Times. But Hank is a gentle giant, said Bryant, adding that when he does invade a home, he is really only interested in food. “He just sits there and eats,” she said. “He doesn’t attack them. He doesn’t growl. He doesn’t make rude faces.”

This video was taken by a security camera on Balboa Drive in the Tahoe Keys this past Thursday afternoon. Obviously, this is the world renown ‘Hank the Tank’—so named by the wonderful and much appreciated officers from the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. As everyone knows, Hank is being targeted for death by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). 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. 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’). As Hank grew to his current enormous size—as you can tell, he eats well—he started going into houses, first by entering through unlocked doors and windows and then by using his size to easily push those barriers out of his way. He can no longer be allowed to remain free, clearly. 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. We don’t know why. The good news is: the trap has been removed, as of over a week ago, and has not been reset. But Hank is still going into homes, this is Not good news.The phones at the BEAR League have been ringing continuously with calls from literally all over the world. And our inbox is overflowing with hundreds of emails, also from around the globe. Everyone is expressing their horror over the plans to kill Hank. We haven’t talk to or heard from a single person who thinks the bear deserves to die. After all, he is only answering the ring of the dinner bell, as all bears do. Everyone wants to know how they can help…many want to send us money. We have enough money to handle all the expenses should Hank be allowed to go to a sanctuary. What we are asking for, instead, are prayers, positive thoughts, fingers and toes crossed, telepathically encouraging the DFW to save Hank….whatever 😊 …. talk to your Power Animal, let’s get them involved, too. Call the DFW and politely ask them not to kill Hank (916-358-2900… please be nice to the phone receptionist). The media is also asking us to talk about Hank, and we did at first, but then we decided it might be better to step back and give the DFW a chance to come up with a plan that doesn’t involve killing this bear. And perhaps they are indeed working on that, we can only hope. (We agree with the DFW that relocation to a bear habitat elsewhere in the wild is not an option…for many reason). We are writing this to let you all know some of the behind-the-scenes activity and to ask you to please understand why we haven’t been able to get back to all of you. It’s just physically impossible due to the huge number of correspondences coming in…. we are listening, tho. And we will not give up or rest until Hank is Safe. Thank you, Everyone, for caring so deeply about this friendly big bear. You give us hope for a compassionate future for all wildlife. Your encouragement, ongoing support, and kind words keep us going…. For the bears.Sincerely, Ann Bryant/BEAR League DirectorPS. Please, if you comment, do so respectfully, we’ll remove any overtly-harsh comments directed towards the DFW.PPS. Hank did not enter this particular house, thankfully.

Posted by BEAR League on Sunday, February 20, 2022
Security camera video shows Hank entering a California home. The Bear League via Facebook

California’s wildlife agency says it is considering euthanizing Hank upon capture as a “last option.” While relocating the bear to a sanctuary of some kind would be preferable, the agency says that “adult bears may be poor candidates for placement due to the chronic stress of adjusting to captivity after living in only wild conditions.” Hank cannot be released back into the wild, the agency says, as he will likely return to human neighborhoods to find food.

In a Facebook post, the Bear League agreed that “relocation to a bear habitat elsewhere in the wild is not an option,” and that it is “frantically working to save his life by reaching out to various wildlife sanctuaries in hopes of finding him a safe home.” The Bear League has also claimed the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has not reached out to any bear sanctuaries and is targeting Hank “for death.”  

[Related: How to keep fat bears (and other bears) out of your trash]

While the Tahoe Keys residents and organizations like the Bear League do not want to see Hank euthanized, that would not be such an uncommon fate for a black bear. As black bear numbers grow—there are currently about 300,000 black bears in the country—habituated bears are a consistent problem. Oregon state officials killed a habituated black bear in 2019. The National Parks Service killed a black bear at Yellowstone in 2020 after it injured a woman at a campsite.

Hunters also commonly kill black bears in multiple states. Many states hold annual hunts in an effort to cull increasing bear populations, per the National Wildlife Federation. And according to Western Wildlife Outreach, 50,000 black bears are hunted in North America each year—likely an underestimate that doesn’t account for poaching.

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