- WASHINGTON POST
Hank the Tank, a Black Bear Who Invaded 21 Homes, Is Finally Captured
12:57 JST, August 9, 2023
To hear Katherine Borges tell it, “Hank the Tank” was a “busy, busy bear.”
Borges, 72, and Hank, a 400-pound black bear, were both residents of a neighborhood in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., in 2021. A retired nurse who’d lived in Tahoe Keys for decades, Borges saw Hank – a newer, devious dweller – curling up underneath trees and ambling around the neighborhood’s lagoons for months.
But Hank wasn’t like most of the other bears that had journeyed through Tahoe Keys. She became a menace to the neighborhood, causing “extensive” damage to homes and terrifying some of its residents.
The bear also found international fame, raising tensions between California wildlife officials and animal advocates on how to bring an end to the mayhem. Finally, after more than a year of tracking Hank and connecting the bear to 21 home invasions, officials captured her and her three cubs on Friday, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced.
Hank will now be cared for at a Colorado animal sanctuary, and her cubs will go to a rehabilitation center in California to see whether they can be released back into the wild, according to the department.
Borges said she was thankful to hear that Hank was not euthanized, which she feared was a possibility at one point in officials’ efforts to quell the break-ins.
“This is probably the best we could do,” she said.
For most of the year, many of the vacation homes in Tahoe Keys are empty, Borges said.
“It’s a perfect place for the bears to hibernate or break in,” Borges said.
She’s seen bears punch through old garage doors and use the crawl spaces under empty houses as dens. Usually, Borges said, the bears just wanted food and would leave homes the way they came in.
But Hank was “severely food habituated,” meaning she was no longer afraid of humans, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a February 2022 news release, adding that police had responded to more than 100 reports about the bear in about seven months. Photos and videos of the bear, who came to be known as Hank the Tank, appeared across social media.
The state wildlife department said that it was conducting a “special trapping effort” for the bear but that “euthanizing an animal is always our last option.”
But the department’s effort in part alarmed advocacy groups, including the Bear League, which said Hank was being “targeted for death.” The group also spoke with directors of sanctuaries that agreed to house Hank.
The Bear League and wildlife department agreed that Hank could no longer be free in the wild because of the way the animal behaved. By then, the incidents had become so frequent that Borges recalled a neighbor setting up a trap in their driveway to capture the massive black bear.
“Poor Hank was getting blamed for everything,” she said.
But on Feb. 24, 2022, the wildlife department revealed that Hank wasn’t the only furry culprit in Tahoe Keys.
DNA evidence showed that three bears were responsible for the incidents, according to the department. It revised its strategy to focus on trapping, tagging and releasing the bears, hoping that would provide a way to identify them beyond physical traits. During that process, the department said, it would not euthanize any bears.
By the end of the summer of 2022, Borges said, she had heard that the bear she and her neighbors believed was Hank moved on to another neighborhood. Borges didn’t hear more about the bear until news of her capture last week.
The wildlife department identified the bear known as one of those believed to be Hank and connected her to 21 break-ins in the South Lake Tahoe area between February 2022 and May 2023 using DNA evidence.
Borges hopes the years-long havoc wreaked by Hank inspires residents to better secure their homes against animal invasions, including by safely storing food and trash cans.
“There are things we can do,” Borges said. “We just have to be smarter than the bear.”
While Hank won’t be spotted in Tahoe Keys again, Borges knows she’ll probably still have bear visitors that are looking for food or a place to den.
On Saturday, she went outside to her deck when she heard her dog barking. As she peered over it, Borges saw a cinnamon bear and its cub right underneath where she stood.
But shortly after, the bears quietly turned to leave Borges’s home. With the cub on its back, the cinnamon bear swam back across the lagoon behind her house.
“They feel this is their neighborhood, but they want nothing to do with us,” she said. “If they see a person, they go the other way.”
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