California officials around Lake Tahoe are on the hunt for an unlikely menace: a 500-pound black bear dubbed “Hank the Tank” who has broken into more than two dozen homes while foraging for food.
Hank is twice the size of an average black bear and has reportedly broken windows and doors in communities.
The black bear population has exploded in recent years, tripling in size over the last three decades. That, coupled with the fact wildfires have destroyed their natural habitat, has prompted the animals to go into people’s homes, cars and garbage cans in the quest for food.
“They’ve figured out how to operate car doors to get in after food that’s in cars,” South Lake Tahoe Police Department Lt. Jeff Roberson told TODAY. “A couple of them have figured out how to work French doors to get into the house. One mama bear even was seen teaching her cubs how to get into that French door.”
Humans are not on the food chain for bears, but the creatures can get violent when they are cornered or surprised.
“I saw a paw right before he started mauling me,” North Lake Tahoe resident Laurel-Rose von Hoffmann-Curzi told TODAY in November about an attack that left her scarred.
Teen shoves bear to save her dogs in viral videoJune 1, 202102:12
Teenager Hailey Morinico also sprang into action last year when she shoved a bear out of her backyard in Bradbury, California, to protect her dogs.
“I was like, 'Oh, my God, there is a bear and it is taking my dog,'” she told TODAY in June just after the encounter. “It is lifting her off the ground, and if I don’t do something about it, who knows what might happen to her.”
Hank’s fate, meanwhile, remains up in the air. Some people think euthanasia is the logical way to handle the situation, while the Bear League, an organization dedicated to bears and humans "living in harmony," wants to relocate him to a sanctuary.
“We believe he’s one of our neighbors, and he’s only doing what he’s been taught to do,” Bear League Executive Director Ann Bryant told TODAY.