Hank the Tank Is Actually Three Bears, None to Be Euthanized, Officials Say

An enormous California black bear known as Hank the Tank that has been breaking into homes in California is in fact three different bears, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), which said it would not euthanize the animals.

The CDFW said on Thursday that DNA samples collected from the most recent incident in South Lake Tahoe Keys—a small town east of Sacramento—and others over the past several months proved that at least three bears broke into a number of homes, not one.

What was previously thought to be one 500-pound black bear, named Hank the Tank by locals, went viral after images and footage of his antics in the town were posted to social media in recent weeks. Black bears have been frequenting the town since July last year. There are an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 black bears in California.

The latest encounter filmed on video showed a black bear startling a family in the town while they were outside bathing in a hot tub.

The CDFW previously suggested that euthanasia could be an option for tackling South Lake Tahoe Keys' bear problem because the animal had become habituated to human food and posed a potential danger to people in the town.

The prospect of euthanasia prompted an outcry from conservationists and sympathetic people who opposed hurting the bear.

A trap placed by the CDFW in South Lake Tahoe Keys in early February was graffitied with the words "bear killer" and later removed. A Change.org petition calling on California Governor Gavin Newsom, the California state assembly and the NGO People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) meanwhile attracted thousands of signatures.

On Thursday, the CDFW announced a new plan and said it aimed to tag and capture the bears, not kill them.

The CDFW said that previous efforts to identify the bears by simply judging how they looked had confused efforts to manage the situation. They said that an approach led by DNA would help prevent future mistakes in identifying bears.

The CDFW are strongly urging residents in South Lake Tahoe Keys and elsewhere to bear-proof their homes and trash cans to dissuade bears from seeking food from people.

Kim Titchener, founder of Bear Safety & More, previously told Newsweek that euthanasia was not favoured by wildlife authorities and could be prevented by residents who live near bears acting responsibly.

"It is most often the only option left due to poor behavior on the part of people. If the bear was getting into garbage, that is on the local community to clean up their act," she said.

The animals are omnivorous and can eat a great variety of food from deer and fish to nuts, berries.

"Bears don't naturally eat garbage but if they gain access to it they are going to choose for it over eating their natural food sources," said Titchener. "Communities that live with bears need to take responsibility for ensuring bears do not get into unnatural food sources such as using bear resistant garbage bins, bear education programs."

Stock image of a black bear
Stock image of a black bear. There are at least three of the animals frequenting South Lake Tahoe Keys, DNA tests have shown. John Morrison/Getty Images