When the COVID-19 pandemic peaked in San Francisco last year, some people chose to work remotely in Tahoe Keys, a village 300 kilometers northeast of the city. It is a beautiful village, houses close to the river, with forests and mountains. But many people who come to Tahoe Keys to avoid the epidemic do not know, there is also a wanderer here:
A famous black bear, weighing up to 226 kg, specializes in breaking into people’s houses to rummage for food. The bear caused a total of 152 clashes over a seven-month period in the Tahoe Keys. It illegally entered 28 houses, broke windows, rammed garage doors like a tank. That’s why the bear was given a separate name: “Hank the Tank”.
The local police department and the California Department of Wildlife are now used to people in Tahoe Keys calling to talk about bears.
“It’s this one bear that’s exceptionally big“, a representative of the Animal Management Department said. Normally, a black bear is only 45 to 136 kg in size. But Hank the Tank weighs almost twice that average.
Ann Bryant, chief executive of the Bear League, a local wildlife rescue organization, said: ‘The bear wouldn’t have been so fat if it had just been in the wild, eating berries and gnawing on shrubs.
Somehow, this black bear is particularly interested in human food. “It seems that the bear feels it is easier to find leftover pizza than in the forest“, said Peter Tira, a spokesman for the Department of Wildlife.
Eating a lot of human fast food made Hank the Tank fat, and he also learned to be tenacious to get those meals. The bear is not afraid of people. Although the local police department did everything to chase it away, from sirens and beanbags to stun guns and paintball guns, the black bear kept coming back.
“It’s a potentially dangerous situation“, said Tira.The bear has lost all fear of humans.”
Hank the Tank bear walks into people’s houses like no one
The Wildlife Service could therefore only comfort the people in the Tahoe Keys, that they should wait. Because in winter the bear will go to sleep and not come to destroy their house anymore. But ironically, this past winter, the frequency of Hank the Tank activity remained unchanged. Tira said maybe this bear doesn’t hibernate anymore.
Usually, bears have a habit of eating a lot in the summer to store fat for the winter, when natural food becomes scarce. But with Hank the Tank, the black bear feels it can find food in people’s places all year round.
So it doesn’t go to sleep anymore. The more winter it is, the more it likes to visit human dwellings. Recently, a DNA analysis from a bear trail left by the Wildlife Management Department also revealed that Hank the Tank seems to have invited two other black bears into this area.
Humans are not good at recognizing bears. Therefore, if only based on appearance, people are easily confused. There must now be at least three black bears in the Tahoe Keys, not just Hank the Tank, according to the Wildlife Service.
American black bears often break into people’s houses
Black bears roaming residential areas, which is not uncommon in the mountains of America. Humans have even learned to live with bears for generations.
One of the first lessons that parents teach their children is not to throw leftovers in the garden because it can attract bears. House-to-house trash cans are always covered and some even buy bear-proof trash cans.
However, bears breaking into houses, breaking doors and causing damage is clearly something of a rarity. In the US, this trend has only appeared in the past 15 years.
Zoologists say it’s possible that’s because the bear’s habitat is increasingly shrinking. Food in the wild becomes scarce as their populations increase, driving bears into houses in search of underwear.
In recent years, the total population of black bears in the US has grown to more than 300,000. That has led many states to allow black bear hunting to eradicate the species.
An estimated 50,000 black bears are killed in the US each year, and if illegal poaching is included, the number could be even higher.
Black bears that attack or harass humans are also susceptible to being shot down. In 2019, officials in the state of Oregon killed a black bear that frequents a residential area. And in 2020, a black bear in Yellowstone was killed after injuring a woman at a campsite.
The fate of the bear Hank the Tank in the Tahoe Keys is currently unknown. In recent weeks, local authorities have been trying to trap it. They plan to capture the bear, anaesthetize it and find a conservation facility willing to adopt the bear.
But because black bears that have lived in the wild for a long time are often not easy to live in captivity, and many conservation facilities are also full, “the last option is to kill it“, said Tira.
This made Bryant, who works in wildlife conservation, strongly disagree. She said that while the residents of Tahoe Keys didn’t want Hank the Tank to destroy their home, they didn’t want the bear to die either.
Bryant said this big bear is actually a very gentle and gentle person. After breaking into the house, it only cares about food and never harms anyone.
“He just sat there and ate,” Bryant said. “He doesn’t attack people. He doesn’t growl. He doesn’t make a rude face. Then why does this big dummy have to die?”
In protest at the killing of Hank the Tank, some locals in the Tahoe Keys even broke the authorities’ bear trap. They kept calling the police department to ask for a more humane measure to this black bear, so much so that the officers here also got tired.
“It’s time to talk. Please stop calling South Lake Tahoe Police to give your opinion on Hank”, they wrote in a notice. “South Lake Tahoe police have no discretion over Hank. Our local wildlife agencies are working together to find the best option for that bear.”
Refer Popsci, Nytimes, NPR