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In a turn of events straight out of a Netflix true crime special, a super-sized bear facing euthanasia for breaking into dozens of houses in Lake Tahoe, will be spared after DNA evidence indicated that he’s innocent of at least some of his alleged crimes.
Local and state officials previously said that “Hank the Tank,” a male black bear estimated to weight at least 500 pounds, had forced his way into at least 30 houses in and around South Lake Tahoe, ransacking refrigerators, pantries, and garages in search of calories. After efforts to haze the bear with paintballs, tasers, beanbag rounds, and sirens failed, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) said that it was considering euthanizing Hank as a last resort, sparking an outcry from wildlife conservation group the BEAR League and leading one local to spray paint “bear killer” on one of the agency’s traps.
On Thursday, however, the agency said in a press release that DNA evidence had shown that at least three different bears, including two females, were responsible for the damage it had previously blamed on Hank. Instead of euthanizing the bears, CDFW said, they would begin trapping the animals, tagging them, and releasing them in a “suitable habitat.”
“Identifying bears simply by their visible, physical characteristics can lead to misidentifying bears and therefore confusing management efforts. 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.” The agency went on to note that it would require access to private property in order to place the traps, and asked locals not to interfere with or vandalize the equipment.
In a Facebook post, the BEAR League welcomed the news of Hank’s (partial) exoneration and expressed gratitude that wildlife experts at the CDFW had taken their defense of the bear seriously. The group wrote that Hank had taken the blame “probably due to his size…. and extreme handsomeness.”
“Along with all of us at the BEAR League, please be thankful that Hank will be alive, wild and free!” it said.