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'Hank the Tank,' the bear behind 21 home invasions, has been captured near Lake Tahoe

A large black bear known as 64F was captured by state authorities in the area around Lake Tahoe, Calif., on Friday after being responsible for at least 21 home break-ins.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
A large black bear known as 64F was captured by state authorities in the area around Lake Tahoe, Calif., on Friday after being responsible for at least 21 home break-ins.

A large black bear who is believed to be a notorious bandit and a hungry, uninvited houseguest was apprehended by wildlife biologists on Friday.

Authorities in the town of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., have been on the lookout for exceptionally large animals since February 2022, after they reported that one single, male bear had been the cause of "152 reports of conflict behavior," including 28 home break-ins. They referred to the animal as "Hank the Tank," setting off the internet's affection.

But it turns out those initial assessments, based solely on visual information, were conflating three bears with a similar pattern of behavior — and incorrectly assuming that all of the bears were male.

DNA testing confirmed that the bear captured on Friday, who is formally known as Bear 64F, was a female behind at least 21 cases of breaking and entering. What's more, she was trespassing with three young cubs in tow, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The agency typically euthanizes so-called "conflict bears" due to the significant risk they pose to the community. But Bear 64F is no ordinary conflict bear.

The more homes that were vandalized in the ritzy waterfront community of Tahoe Keys, about 100 miles east of Sacramento, the more the public came to the defense of "Hank the Tank," blaming the bears' behavior on unsecured garbage cans and habitat encroachment.

The CDFW cited "widespread interest" in Bear 64F as the reason it intends to relocate her to a Colorado sanctuary once she has received veterinary clearance. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis welcomedthe move in a tweet, saying he'd welcome "Henrietta the Tank".

The three male cubs who tagged along on several break-ins will also be relocated and rehabilitated and CDFW hopes it can one day be returned to the wild, having regained a fear of humans. One of the cubs appeared to have suffered serious injuries from a vehicle strike earlier this month, according to the agency.

Given her diet, it's perhaps no surprise that Bear 64F chose the space under a Tahoe Keys home for her den. After she was discovered there in March, local biologists used the moment to immobilize her, collect her DNA, attach an ear tag and affix a satellite tracking collar.

The collar slipped off two months later, but the data collected helped differentiate Bear 64F from an ursine population numbering roughly 500 in the Lake Tahoe region.

The average female black bear weighs up to 275 pounds, according to CDFW, but it's not uncommon for males to weigh more than 500 pounds. Much of the bears' diet is plant-based, consisting of berries, seeds and insects, but their ability to adapt based on their environment is part of what makes them a top predator.

According to one resident of the area, at least one of the "Hanks" had a hankering for dessert: The bear ate a 2-gallon tub of ice cream from her neighbor's trash can.

Dr. Staci Baker, a veterinarian who works with the local nonprofit BEAR League, says that it's instinctual for bears to search the landscape for food. So that makes it the responsibility of residents — the human ones — to maintain a "bear-safe" community, she said.

"Securing garbage is huge. Bear-proof containers work. If everyone did not leave garbage, the bears would go somewhere else" she told NPR's Weekend Edition back in 2022.

The community of Tahoe Keys has since revised a policy that previously forbade residents from using temporary storage structures, including bear boxes.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.