There’s One Way to End ‘Hank the Tank’s’ Reign of Tahoe Terror, Expert Says

The 500-pound black bear is accused of nearly 30 break-ins in seven months.
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In a spree that started in July, a black bear known as “Hank the Tank” has caused damage to nearly 30 properties in the Lake Tahoe area. Once inside, he treats the homes as all-you-can-eat buffets.

Last week Hank struck again, burgling another home in his endless hunt for chow.

Los Angeles spoke to bear expert Ann Bryant, director of the Bear League, a non-for-profit organization in the greater Lake Tahoe area working to keep people living in harmony with bears. Bryant’s other phone rang incessantly throughout the conversation. Relocation doesn’t work, she said—moving a bear to a completely different area leaves them disoriented and unable to find food.

“He has lived here his whole life,” Bryant said.

And she opposes euthanasia. In fact, when the Department of Fish and Wildlife spoke of euthanizing Hank, community members revolted and blocked the traps that were set up for him.

There’s really one option left. “He needs to go to a sanctuary,” Bryant told Los Angeles.

Bryant has found five sanctuaries that will take Hank, she said, if only he could be captured. Her favorite is on 10,000 acres and features both a swimming pool and a hot tub for Hank to soak in.

Bryant recommends a little education about living with bears that Lake Tahoe Basin residents need to adhere to, especially the ones that come down from the city. The area is bear country—humans are just living in it. While bears can sustain themselves on food found in the woods, they must constantly eat to keep on weight, and will easily find themselves attracted to human food sources like bird-feeders and garbage. Everyone should have a bear-proof garbage container, Bryant says. Otherwise, the bears won’t be able to restrain themselves. Garages and sliding doors should be locked, as well.

Hank is a particularly large bear, weighing in at around 500 pounds. He has bulked up from the contents of refrigerators and garbage cans around the Tahoe area instead of sticking to bears’ primarily plant-based diet. That’s part of the problem, Peter Tira, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told SFGate.

“It’s used its size and strength to break into a number of occupied residences, bursting through the garage door or front door,” Tira said.

It is not unusual for Hank the Tank to break into houses while its humans are home. Bears have a natural fear of people, but if they learn to see humans as a food source—with no threat from the humans themselves—they will become fearless. Just ask Yogi and Boo-boo.

After all, noshing on some easily accessible leftover pizza, Bryant said, is way easier than “going to a berry bush and picking one little berry at a time.”


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