Turns out, Hank the Tank wasn’t on a one-bear crime spree — he had accomplices.
And thanks to DNA evidence clearing his name, Hank won’t be killed or moved to a sanctuary.
Earlier, officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) said that the 500-pound bear was the culprit in more than two dozen home break-ins around South Lake Tahoe, Calif., adding that he was responsible for “152 reports of conflict behavior.”
On Thursday, however, they said Hank wasn’t the only one responsible for the crimes.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, DNA samples show that at least two other bears have broken into area homes.
“Identifying bears simply by their visible, physical characteristics can lead to misidentifying bears and therefore confusing management efforts,” CDFW officials said in a statement. “The genetic information gleaned from our effort in the South Lake Tahoe area will assist CDFW by expanding its database of bear genetics and hopefully preventing future misidentification of bears.”
Given the new evidence, officials say they are no longer planning to euthanize Hank if captured. Instead, wildlife experts say their plan is to “trap, tag and work to relocate habituated bears.”
“All of these efforts are focused on keeping residents safe, and enabling safe and healthy conditions for these bears,” the agency said.
Hank is a “severely food-habituated bear,” the CDFW said, explaining that the term simply means that Hank has “lost its fear of people and is associating people with access to food.”
Hank’s fame quickly increased as his story was shared across dozens of news outlets over the last few days. And South Lake Tahoe police are fed up with residents calling the department about Hank — sharing their opinions on how officials should handle him, according to San Francisco TV station ABC 7.
On Wednesday, the department posted a message to residents on Facebook urging them to stop calling the department about the bear.
“It’s time to talk. Please stop calling South Lake Tahoe Police to give your opinions about Hank,” the department wrote. “The SLTPD does not have a say in where Hank lands. Our local wildlife agencies are working together to find the best option for Hank.”
The Bear League, a local nonprofit that aims to protect bears, expressed its relief of Hank not being euthanized on Facebook.
“Hank no longer has a death sentence hanging over him and he is no longer going to have his freedom taken away from him by sending him to a sanctuary,” the nonprofit wrote in a post.
“We fully support this decision and are grateful for the investigation into the truth that was taken seriously by the experts within our CA DFW,” the post adds.
The bear “has used its immense size and strength to break in and through front doors and garage doors” over roughly the past seven months, the agency said.
NPR’s Bill Chappell contributed to this report.