Hank the Tank became the focus of a bear hunt this month after he was accused of breaking into multiple homes around South Lake Tahoe, California. He was to be euthanized by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), who, fearing a single bear was the culprit behind “152 reports of conflict behavior,” were acting for the safety of local residents.
But a twist in the tale of the Bear Burglar came with the results of DNA tests that revealed the break-ins weren’t the work of just one bear, but at least two other accomplices. A veritable pack of bear bandits.
"Identifying bears simply by their visible, physical characteristics can lead to misidentifying bears and therefore confusing management efforts," NPR reports CDFW officials said.
"The genetic information gleaned from our effort in the South Lake Tahoe area will assist CDFW by expanding its database of bear genetics and hopefully preventing future misidentification of bears."
“Hank’s” antics gained global traction and as animal rights groups pleaded that he not be euthanized but instead moved to a sanctuary, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department were inundated with calls.
“Please stop calling SLTPD dispatch to voice your opinion about Hank,” they wrote on Facebook. “They're being inundated with aggressive callers, taking away from their ability to handle actual emergency calls.”
On the same post, evidence of the danger of bear break-ins was shared as it showed the prints of a bear (Hank or otherwise) that had snuck into a secured home through a small window. When they arrived, the bear was still inside the house – not something you want to return home to after a long day.
However, samples taken from the scenes of the crimes revealed that there were at least two other bears breaking down the doors of California residents, and it’s possible more were involved. The news is something of a lifeline for Hank, our Tank, as it means he won’t be euthanized or relocated.
His residency in California was under question because if a single animal is found to be the cause of a significant number of conflicts with humans, wildlife departments have a responsibility to isolate them from the community.
However, since the incidents are the work of a number of bears the CDFW instead plans to trap and tag bears with a mind to possibly relocating animals who have gotten a little too familiar with human settlements. This can happen when bears begin to associate people with food, which increases the risk of people one day becoming the food.
"All of these efforts are focused on keeping residents safe, and enabling safe and healthy conditions for these bears," the CDFW said, according to NPR.