One of the most prolific thieves in the South Lake Tahoe, Calif., area was “safely immobilized” by tranquilizer dart and apprehended Friday morning, according to state officials: a 400-pound black bear that the public had come to know as Hank the Tank.
The captured bear was responsible for at least 21 confirmed home break-ins and extensive property damage in Tahoe Keys dating back to early 2022, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a news release. The bear will be transported to an animal sanctuary in Colorado this week.
Based on visual observations made by residents during a string of rummaging and ransacking incidents dating back to 2021, the public initially thought “Hank the Tank” was one male bear. But the bear that was captured on Friday, a female known to the state as 64F, is one of three bears responsible for some of the area break-ins that had been attributed to Hank.
“I guess they all technically are ‘Hank the Tank,’” Jordan Traverso, a spokeswoman for the department, said. She said the “other Hanks” have not “presented themselves as problems” this year in Tahoe Keys, a gated community about 190 miles northeast of San Francisco.
The female Hank, however, remained at-large — and “exceptionally large,” according to state wildlife authorities.
For over a year, this Hank had terrorized members of the community, ripping off screen doors and parts of garage doors, rummaging through garbage bins, climbing stairs and scratching up cars, prompting dozens of calls to the police. At one home in the area, Ms. Traverso said, Hank ripped off siding so that she could access part of the house from underneath.
Bears are “incredibly adept with their hands,” capable of opening latches and doors, Ms. Traverso explained. “They know what refrigerators look like, and they know what’s in them.”
The average black bear in the Western United States weighs 100 to 300 pounds, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. In ransacking homes and rummaging through trash cans, Hank learned that she could quickly access thousands of calories at once. It is a troubling behavior that she was teaching her three cubs, which were also captured on Friday, the authorities said.
The state wildlife department hopes to rehabilitate the three young cubs, at least one of which had served as an accomplice in recent break-ins, by sending them to the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, about 200 miles west of South Lake Tahoe. The department said it intended to release the cubs back into the wild.
Their mother will be moved this week to the Wild Animal Sanctuary near Springfield, Colo., where she will live in a 300-acre habitat that is quite similar to the environment she knew in California.
“The only difference is, we deliver the food,” said Pat Craig, the executive director of the sanctuary, adding that Hank was expected to arrive there on Tuesday.
Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado welcomed Hank to the state on social media, saying she ”turned out to be Henrietta the Tank.”
Hank’s circumstances are “pretty rare,” as most “problem bears” are euthanized, Mr. Craig noted. He estimated “anywhere from 300 to close to 1,000” are put down each year in the United States.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in its statement that it pursued “an alternative solution” for the bear they call 64F, or Hank, “given the widespread interest in this bear.”
Even so, Ms. Traverso said that, ideally, wild animals “remain wild forever.” She urged that people living near areas inhabited by bears secure their garbage, pick up fruit that falls from trees and refrain from putting out bird feeders. Humans are the “controllable factor,” she said.