“He didn’t get fat like that eating berries and grubs.”
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A black bear; leftover pizza
Credit: Tammy Nash / Getty Images; Iustina Stanciu / Getty Images

It sounds like a joke you've heard before: Where does a 500-pound black bear eat? But Lake Tahoe area residents aren't laughing, because this bear really does seem to be dining wherever he likes.

"Hank the Tank" (as the bear has been nicknamed by the South Lake Tahoe Police Department) has been tormenting California residents in the Tahoe Keys community, racking up over 150 complaint calls, damaging nearly 38 properties, and even using his size and strength to break into at least 28 homes since July. His target: human food.

"It's easier to find leftover pizza than to go in the forest," Peter Tira, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), said according to the New York Times.

That lust for fancy grub has reportedly caused Hank's beefed up body mass: The average black bear weighs between just 100 to 300 pounds. "He didn't get fat like that eating berries and grubs," Ann Bryant, the executive director of the wildlife rescue service the Bear League, added.

Sadly, breaking and entering to grab tasty leftovers could also be Hank's undoing. Wildlife authorities have said the bear's dependence on human food may mean they have no choice but euthanize him. "The [ongoing] trapping activity is a measure of last resort to capture and euthanize a specific — and what we call a severely habituated or human-food conditioned — black bear," Tira explained according to local KCRA 3 News. "For months, and despite hazing and other mitigation efforts, the target bear has caused extensive property damage and forcefully entered several homes — including occupied homes."

CDFW have looked into relocating Hank, but haven't found any viable options. Even Bryant admits that once a bear has gotten a taste for human food, relocation is not a good option. "It usually doesn't end well," she told Reno's News 4. "The bears that are taken to a different area have to forage for themselves; they don't know anything about that area. There is usually another bear that lives there who is territorial. The bears will die trying to get back home. Or they will starve to death because they don't know where to find food."

Still, some residents have expressed concerns about euthanizing the seemingly friendly bear and are hoping a sanctuary could be an option. "He just sits there and eats," Bryant told the Times. "He doesn't attack [residents]. He doesn't growl. He doesn't make rude faces."

And in a post to their website, CDFW reminded residents that some of the blame is their own. "The outcome for this food-habituated bear could have been avoided with a few simple actions," the department wrote. "Bears are primarily scent-driven when seeking food. As such, we ask again that everyone remain vigilant and act responsibly by properly storing food and garbage while living in — or visiting — bear habitat.

"Meanwhile, KCRA reports that Hank broke into another home by busting through a window as recently as Friday.

Update Feb. 25, 2022: Hank has been (partially) exonerated. Apparently the infamous bear isn't acting alone, as wildlife officials announced Thursday that DNA samples point to at least three different bears being responsible for recent break-ins, the Sacramento Bee reports. As such, the more drastic action of euthanasia has been taken off the table while other measures are considered, including a "trap, tag, haze" program to keep the bears out of people's homes.

"During this effort, CDFW will gather information and learn from scientific analysis to help inform and refine our bear management in the Lake Tahoe Basin," the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a written statement. "CDFW is not going to euthanize any bears that are trapped during this effort."