By Aya Elamroussi, CNN
The massive black bear, known as Hank the Tank and blamed for breaking and entering more than two dozen homes in California’s Lake Tahoe area, is no longer the sole suspect, according to officials.
Authorities had believed the 500-pound bear was acting alone as he roamed the streets in the Tahoe Keys area of South Lake Tahoe, about 100 miles east of Sacramento.
But DNA evidence gathered by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife suggests several bears may have been responsible for the break-ins. The statement Thursday did not clarify if Hank was to blame for at least some of the incidents.
“While recent incidents of bears invading homes were originally thought to be a single bear, DNA evidence collected from the most recent incident as well as prior incidents over the past several months prove that at least three bears were responsible for breaking into numerous residences,” the statement said.
Last week, officials said they believed Hank carried out 28 home invasions and extensively damaged 33 properties on his own. He was also blamed for breaking through a small window and somehow squeezing inside a house last Friday when no one was there.
And because he had lost his fear of people, there was the possibility that he would have to be euthanized.
Now considering the new DNA evidence, the fish and wildlife department has decided it will take measures to better track the bears.
The department said it will trap bears in South Lake Tahoe area, tag them, collect evidence for genetic analysis and then release them into their appropriate habitat.
“During this effort, CDFW will gather information and learn from scientific analysis to help inform and refine our bear management in the Lake Tahoe Basin. CDFW is not going to euthanize any bears that are trapped during this effort,” the department said.
It will take a village
The fish and wildlife department has said there haven’t been direct bear attacks on humans or pets in South Lake Tahoe. But it’s also emphasizing that it needed the community’s help with the tagging process, which helps them identify bears accurately.
The department is asking residents to work with it on placing the traps to protect both them and the bears. The department noted that it must be granted approval to place traps on private property and will need that access for this effort to be effective.
“Additionally, for traps to work, they must be left alone and not vandalized or harmed in any way,” the department said.
The department urged people to store their trash appropriately because it can attract bears to their homes as they are scent-driven animals when seeking food.
“We all need to take all precautions to store food and trash properly to protect ourselves, our neighbors and local bears,” the department said.
The department’s original post on February 17 drew widespread media attention by outlining the alleged trail of destruction perpetrated by the bear, which it said was “extremely food-habituated and has used its immense size and strength to break in and through front doors and garage doors.”
It noted that it had 152 reports of conflict behavior from the bear, who was “readily identifiable due to its exceptionally large size and dark coat with lighter muzzle.”
The post has since been amended with a note sending readers to the latest details on the DNA investigation.
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CNN’s Sara Smart contributed to this report.