'Hank the Tank': Overweight bear breaks into California homes

#savehankthetank trends online as bear advocates defend giant black bear following series of home break-ins

Hank the Tank weighs twice as much as male black bears often do. Photo: Bear League's Facebook
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An overweight black bear nicknamed "Hank the Tank" is gaining international fame following a series of break-ins across a California mountain town that has pitted authorities against bear-supporting locals.

Hank, who has been feasting on rubbish and carelessly disposed human food, is estimated to tip the scales at about 225 kilograms, much heavier than normal for male black bears in the western US, where they usually max out at about 135kg.

Over the weekend, Hank broke into a home by squeezing through a small window, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department said on Facebook.

"This bear did not break into a garage where trash was kept that he was sniffing out. He broke into a secured home, through the small window in the photo, and somehow squeezed inside," police said.

"It's not very nice to break people's property!! We want them to go back to their homes in the forest."

The bear has been rummaging for food in South Lake Tahoe since last summer. The resort city in the Sierra Nevada mountains borders Nevada and overlooks the famous eponymously-named lake.

American black bears are the most common bear in North America. They are smaller and less aggressive than their grizzly cousins, but often come into contact with humans living near wild areas and are frequently drawn by the smell of rubbish and food.

Peter Tira, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the New York Times that authorities have tried to scare Hank away by firing paintballs at him and using other non-lethal deterrents, but the lure of human food has failed to keep him away for long.

“It’s easier to find leftover pizza than to go in the forest,” Mr Tira told the Times.

“This is a bear that has lost all fear of people ... It’s a potentially dangerous situation.”

Authorities have said the giant bear should be trapped and might need to be euthanised, worried that relocating it might just move the problem to another area.

Many locals and observers from around the world are aghast that Hank's days might be numbered.

A bear advocacy group called the Bear League says it has offers from multiple bear sanctuaries to house the ursine.

"Everyone is expressing their horror over the plans to kill Hank," Bear League said on Facebook.

"We haven’t talk to or heard from a single person who thinks the bear deserves to die. After all, he is only answering the ring of the dinner bell, as all bears do."

A Twitter campaign called #savehankthetank was gaining popularity on Monday, with users calling for the bear's survival.

Updated: February 21, 2022, 9:45 PM