Pizza, a slice, a pie, is a favorite any time meal for many people of all ages. As it turns out, for bears too. Hank the Tank made headlines in South Lake Tahoe last February searching out his snacks. This big black bear, having lost any fear of humans, thrived on indoor dining even if it wasn’t pizza. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officials reported Hank to be a “severely food-habituated bear” meaning that Hank associates “people with access to food.” And people, Hank figured out, live in houses and that is where the food could be found. In the past several months Hank managed to squeeze all of his 500 pounds through the front or side or garage doors of at least 28 houses where he knew his lunch or dinner would be waiting. Hank carries an extra 200 pounds over the average bear probably as a result of easy to gather food. He didn’t even need to hibernate. Hank was cited as the reason for 152 reports of “conflict behavior” from unhappy residents.
Hank the Tank isn’t the first food fanatic at Lake Tahoe. In 2020 a fellow 500 pounder known as the Safeway Bear was caught on camera chomping though a grocery store’s produce section and, perhaps for dessert, chewing on his candy choices at a gas station’s food section. The Safeway Bear’s story has a sad ending: this food-habituated bear was trapped then tagged and released into a remote wild habitat with the hope that he would learn to love a natural diet in place of the readily available produce and candy. He didn’t. Thin and desperate, he resorted to raiding campsites and was shot and killed at a campground.
When the CDFW launched a “special trapping effort” to remove Hank the Tank citing the options of placing him in a controlled habitat or euthanizing him the Bear League, a local nonprofit for the protection of bears, stepped in and reached out to various wildlife sanctuaries to find hm a new home. However, upon further investigation using DNA evidence it was discovered that Hank was not the only hungry culprit. He was but one of a total of three beefy bears who thought home cooking was just right. They too put on extra pounds. Reports from the Bear League declare the bear partners in crime had mostly been mild mannered while stealing and eating food although they did, in some cases, destroy property. With multiple bears involved, the CDFW said it would work in the coming weeks and months to trap, tag and study them and then release them into more suitable habitats.
One issue apparently being reconsidered and rectified as a result of Hank and friends is the use of bear boxes. These garbage bin enclosures resistant to animals have been prohibited in the area because they are thought to be “unsightly”. However scientific studies in the region show that using bear boxes or similar animal resistant storage containers dramatically reduces reports of problem bears. The CDFW: “It is a simple step that might be the single biggest step to help the bears.” In a reversal bear boxes are now allowed.