DNA Shows At Least Three Large Black Bears Are Breaking Into Tahoe Homes, Not Just ‘Hank the Tank’

Bears have damaged at least 30 properties in the area

A black bear in the forest looking at the camera during fall
A typical black bear in the western United States (pictured) is around half of Hank’s size. mlorenzphotography via Getty Images

Editor's Note, February, 25, 2022: On Thursday, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife CDFW) announced at least three bears—not an individual 500-pound black bear nicknamed Hank the Tank—have damaged at least 30 properties in the South Tahoe Lake area in recent months, according to the Associated Press. Wildlife officials will begin trapping efforts to capture and release the bears into "suitable habitats." No bears will be euthanized, per a CDFW statement

More than two dozen California homes have been burgled by a hungry 500-pound black bear. Now, "Hank the Tank" is wanted by California police who say he's become dangerously comfortable around humans.

Since last summer, the unusually large bear has been moving through the Lake Tahoe area in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, a region home to 40 percent of the state’s black bear population. Within seven months, Hank damaged at least 33 properties and entered at least 28 homes, according to a recent blog post by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

“This bear is extremely food-habituated and has used its immense size and strength to break in and through front doors and garage doors,” officials said in their post. “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.”

A large overweight black bear sitting in front of a tree
Hank seems to have cruised right through winter hibernation thanks to a near-constant supply of human food. Bear League

Conflicts between humans and bears usually happen during summer and fall when the hungry bears are packing on pounds for winter hibernation. Black bears have a sense of smell seven times greater than a bloodhound's and are often drawn to nearby homes, towns, and campsites when they catch a whiff of human food. Police and wildlife officials have tried to scare away the bear with paintballs, bean bags, and sirens, but Hank is never deterred for long, Alyssa Lukpat reports for the New York Times.

"It's learned to use its size and strength to force its way into homes," says CDFW spokesman Peter Tira to BCC. "It'll barge through garage doors, it'll barge through front doors. It'll go through windows."

Hank appears to have skipped winter hibernation because of his access to an abundant food supply, which could be part of his impressive size. Black bears in the western United States usually weigh between 100 to 300 pounds, and Hank likely reached his 500-pound-size by feasting on human food, reports Popular Science’s Hannah Seo.

"He's not subsisting on a diet of ants and berries like a lot of wild bears do," Tira tells BBC. "In Tahoe there's year-round access to high caloric food—whether we're talking about leftover pizza or ice cream or just trash. It's easier to find that kind of food than to work for hours to remove grubs from a dead log."

Hank is a “severely food-habituated bear,” according to the state’s wildlife department, meaning he is no longer fearful of humans, and associates people with access to food.

Officials are now conducting a “special trapping effort” to try to capture the bear, who was last seen a few days ago walking down a street in Tahoe Keys, a community about 190 miles northeast of San Francisco, according to CNN’s Sara Smart. Wildlife officials will then determine if they’re able to transport Hank to a sanctuary or if they will be forced to euthanize him, as the bear has grown accustomed to conflict with humans.

"While the Lake Tahoe area has a healthy and dense bear population, euthanizing an animal is always our last option," the blog post reads. “CDFW is currently evaluating the possibility of placement of this bear when captured.”

Local officials are advising residents to responsibly store and dispose of food to limit habituating nearby bears.