Hank Was Framed

Hank the Tank, the beloved 500-pound black bear that stood accused of breaking into thirty Lake Tahoe homes, has been acquitted, at least partly.

While the mainstream media demonized Hank, using words like “terrorized,” “rampage,” and “thief,” the California Department of Fish and Wildlife was conducting DNA evidence on the break ins.

Turns out, the thirty break ins were the work of at least three different bears. The last break in, which incited international media attention, was the work of a female bear, definitely not Hank.

Long-time residents of Lake Tahoe know how to live side by side with their black bears, like Hank the Tank. But new residents who bought into Lake Tahoe when they learned they could work at home are calling the police and endangering the community’s beloved bears, according to Ann Bryant, executive director of the BEAR League.

Hank garnered media attention for the work of multiple bears who were breaking into houses and scarfing homeowner’s food. These three or more bears harmed no one during the recent break ins, although residents of bear territory have been injured by bears in previous years. Hank, who was blamed for all the break ins, was in danger of being euthanized. Hank was a convenient scapegoat for general bear damage because he is easily recognizable to people who know what traits to look for. In addition to his size, he has distinct facial characteristics.

Several wildlife sanctuaries offered Hank a permanent home where he can roam free without running amok of millennial techies’ potato chips. But bear relocation is complicated and potentially dangerous to those bears who have little experience foraging in the true wild.

The mainstream media grossly exaggerated Hank’s size, adding to the fear mongering. Today.com claims that Hank is “twice the size” of a normal bear. That’s nonsense, Bryant notes. Hank is big, she concedes, but it is perfectly normal for a male black bear to be 400 pounds. There have been much bigger bears. She remembers one named “Brownie” who was 960 pounds.

Hank gained weight through the winter because he did not hibernate. Bryant explains that bears don’t hibernate because it’s cold or because they are tired. They hibernate to save themselves from starvation during the winter. Hunger triggers the hibernation. But there’s no lack of food in Lake Tahoe where affluent people often don’t sequester their garbage well enough, Bryant complains. So Hank is among the twenty percent of Lake Tahoe bears that do NOT hibernate. Instead, they stay awake, snack, and pack on the happy fat.

Bryant says it’s not that difficult to live in harmony with bears. Until the latest influx of new residents, she and her neighbors lived with bears in peace. “They go swimming at the beach with us, they have names,” she says.

What Tahoe Keys can do to save bears

Tahoe Keys does have a human-created bear problem, but the solution lies with humans, not bears. For the time being, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has promised not to euthanize any problem bears, but the community’s bears are still in danger. Residents can obtain a permit to shoot bears on their property. Homeowners who wish to save bears need to do their part, including:

  • Community-wide use of bear-proof garbage containers. The homeowners association should mandate these.
  • Educate all homeowners, especially new ones, about living in harmony with bears.
  • Owners of short-term rentals need to lay down very firm guest guidelines about how to interact with bears. (Don’t feed the bear, don’t leave food on the patio, don’t leave food in your car. Don’t feed birds)
  • For the love of god, don’t feed bears directly, no matter how cute they are.
  • Bears who lose their fear of humans are always in danger of being killed. Though it seems counter-intuitive, bear lovers need to discourage bears who come on their property. If you are at a safe distance from the bear, have your dog bark at the bear. Use a paintball gun to shoot the bear on its flanks or backside. This applies, in particular, to bear cubs who must learn to fear humans and human communities at a young age before they develop unbreakable habits.
Black Bear. Photo courtesy of photographer Thomas Fuhrmann, SnowmanStudios.

21 thoughts on “Hank Was Framed

  1. People need to educate themselves when they live in areas with wildlife all around them! We are supposedly an intelligent species and yet we act so much like nothing matters but ourselves. It would be such a shame to see Hank killed because of something humans created!!!

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  2. I do not live in the Sierras, and haven’t lived in “bear country” for years but I have been following the saga of Hank for awhile.
    This bear is just living his life, taking every opportunity offered to him by uneducated, uncaring and entitled humans! He has done nothing, seriously nothing to be put to death for; and it sounds like the newly relocated city folk have offered lots of opportunities for him to have become belligerent or dangerous.
    Save Hank and fine the fools.

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  3. This an excellent article, it sure is interesting and mysterious that so many Tahoe locals have lived harmoniously with bears for generations. It certainly makes one ponder the thought of who actually is the culprit of the issues.

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  4. Thank you Ann Bryant for all you and the Bear League do! Hank must be saved! He is so magnificently beautiful. And such a gift for us to witness.

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  5. I totally agree with food being left out, garbage not put away in a bear proof bin. These people who are residents whether they are from the bay area or mid state they need to be aware of the way we have co existed with bears in Tahoe. If flyers are left on poles or at grocery stores on paper bags etc. theres not enough information out there for the new comers. The town is too a transient town where people stay for a few years and leave. A constant flood of information should be mailed or some how communicated. Through real-estate?

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  6. If the old timers love him and want him taken to a sanctuary then that is what should be done. The “me me me” generation should go to hell.

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  9. I lived in Tahoe for 38 years and a lot of it was on Michael drive where I would continually see bears coming through the neighborhood without incident. Education is the key to solving this problem in my estimation

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  10. A Family Bear story,
    My son Glen lives in a small cabin just off Pioneer Trail. Last fall he called us about 3AM saying a bear has come into the cabin around 12 am. Said he had heard a noise in the house so got up and opened the bedroom door and he found him self face to face with a bear my son yelled and the Bear yelled back and started looking for a way out of the cabin. The Bear saw some light from a window partly covered by a large mirror. Bear walked over and carefully lifted it, with it’s front paws and moved the mirror out of the way, looked back as if to say “good night” and dove out the closed window taking the window frame with him. Nobody was hurt, and minimum damage, and the Bear never came back. Yaa Bear!

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  12. Bear proof trash bins need to be installed, especially in the Tahoe Keys area. This should be mandatory, and the sooner the better. For those residents that don’t want them because they are ‘ugly’, they can be painted by an artist. No more excuses. Let’s do the right thing and prevent unnecessary bear deaths.

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  13. Pingback: Massive bear called Hank the Tank still on the run from Californian police – Posts Line

  14. Pingback: Cheeky bear opens car doors to steal snacks for her cubs – Posts Line

  15. Pingback: Cheeky bear opens car doors to steal snacks for her cubs - NewsGroove Uk

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