Dancing Bears

A Bear with Obesity Living Large in a Gated Community

For insight into the notion that something is wrong with our food environment, consider the case of Hank the Tank. Hank is a bear of size in South Lake Tahoe, California. Living large with obesity in a posh gated community, this bear is wreaking havoc. All because he found an ample supply of food. California’s agency responsible for handling this crisis explains:

“The California Department of Fish and wildlife (CDFW) is conducting a special trapping effort for a specific male bear, weighing approximately 500 pounds, in the Tahoe Keys area of South Lake Tahoe. These traps represent official state business to capture a specific and ‘severely food-habituated bear’ defined as a conflict bear under CDFW’s 2022 Black Bear Policy in California. Food-habituated means that the animal has lost its fear of people and is associating people with access to food.”

In short, the food environment in this resort community has created an attractive hazard for bears. And thus Hank has become a hazard to humans – breaking into at least 30 homes to grab a snack.

The Human Food Supply Makes It Easy

Peter Tira is a CDFW spokesperson. He says Hank is undaunted by attempts to push him back into the forest, away from humans and their food. “It’s easier to find leftover pizza than to go in the forest,” he says.

Ann Bryant is executive director of the Bear League, a wildlife rescue service. She puts the blame squarely on humans and their food supply:

“He didn’t get fat like that eating berries and grubs.

“People left doors and windows open, and the bears think it’s a big box of food. The bears learned this. We haven’t wanted to change our behavior to keep them out of the houses.”

Food Unfit for Folk or Fauna

This bear found a perfect food environment for obesity, but not for his wellbeing. This is the environment we have created for ourselves. The quality, quantity, and ubiquity of food activates obesity in both humans and now, in this bear. The solutions for Hank, though challenging, are simple enough. Wildlife officials will either take him far away from us and our noxious food supply or destroy him.

For humans, the solutions are not so simple. We know there’s a problem, but the solutions we’ve tried to date have had no measurable effect. One-off strategies like a soda tax or food labeling or nutrition education sound great, but don’t move the needle. We have systemic problems with our food environment. We’ll need systematic solutions to resolve them.

Click here for a thoughtful exploration of how obesity is affecting many species of animals. For more on the case study of Hank, click here, here, and here.

Dancing Bears, painting by William Holbrook Beard / WikiArt

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February 22, 2022

4 Responses to “A Bear with Obesity Living Large in a Gated Community”

  1. February 22, 2022 at 7:37 am, Angie Golden said:

    Oh Ted, what a wonderful posting and story. I can’t wait to use this in a presentation (fully crediting your posting of course)! It so clearly puts our issue together in a short story!

    • February 22, 2022 at 7:41 am, Ted said:

      Food unfit for folk or fauna.

  2. February 22, 2022 at 12:30 pm, David Brown said:

    The food supply is defective; too much of the omega-6s. “The rising incidence of childhood obesity and T2D, high blood pressure, hyperinsulinemia and dyslipidemia are particularly worrisome as these children often mature to be obese adults. This risk of developing obesity and T2D has largely been blamed on the increased consumption of energy dense foods and fat intake, particularly saturated fat, but it is interesting to know that the mean fat intake of the human population has not increased much in the past 50 years.”

    “Although the total fat content of the diet has not changed significantly, a growing number of reports are making it quite clear that the dietary fatty acid quality may be responsible for the differential influence on obesity and pathophysiological outcome…The main alteration within the fatty acid profile of the modern diet has been the increased use of vegetable oil,..” https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/41405

    • February 22, 2022 at 8:33 pm, Ted said:

      I have real doubts that the problems for this bear can be traced to vegetable oil.