In California and Nevada, there are 25,000 to 35,000 wild black bears. But these days, the public is fixated on the fate of one — a 5-year-old, 500-pound bear named Meatball.
He got the name because when he came down from the Angeles National Forest into the city looking for food, he discovered meatballs in a refrigerator inside a garage. He also discovered the joy of swimming in backyard pools.
Over a six-month period, Meatball visited the foothill community of La Canada-Flintridge (near Glendale, Calif.) numerous times. The California Department of Fish and Game managed to capture, tranquilize and tag (#210) him, and twice returned him deep into the forest.
Finally, in late August, DFG captured him in town a third time and determined that he had become “habituated,” meaning he was unafraid to enter areas of human habitation. That could prove dangerous to the animal and residents; and, even though Meatball had never acted aggressively, DFG believed he should be taken into permanent custody. Fortunately, he was not euthanized as some habituated wild bears are. Instead, DFG took him to an exotic animal sanctuary called Lions, Tigers & Bears near San Diego.
The plan was to board Meatball temporarily in a 15-by-20-foot cage at LTB, which had just welcomed a new bear in June and was at full capacity, and then send him to live permanently at the Wild Animal Sanctuary near Denver. But Colorado officials cited a regulation that prevents wild animals from living in sanctuaries, so the relocation did not occur. At this writing, the Denver sanctuary has filed a lawsuit asking a district court judge to intervene on behalf of Meatball and all animals that might be endangered by the regulation.
Meanwhile, Lions, Tigers & Bears has launched a fund-raising effort to collect enough money to build Meatball a proper habitat so he can stay. The organization is in the process of getting contractor estimates, so it’s too soon to know how much it will cost. But LTB did note that the much larger bear habitat currently on the grounds cost $250,000.
Details of Meatball’s proposed new home were unveiled on LTB’s Website. It was stated that he will need a safety room, as well as an enclosed outdoor area that will include rolling hills, caves, hammocks, boulders and natural grasses, where he can roam and play. “Because he loves water (before being captured, he was filmed pool-hopping), the sanctuary would love to build him a pool,” LTB added.
Offers to help have already begun: San Diego Gas & Electric is willing to donate 26-foot wooden poles to support the outdoor enclosure. The local newspaper, Crescenta Valley Weekly, has started fund-raising, and individuals and groups have offered to help build the habitat.
“We need to do what’s best for Meatball,” said Bobbi Brink, founder/director of LTB. “We are ready to begin building the habitat as soon as possible, but need financial support from the public in order to get started. … This bear has touched so many hearts with his story, we want to see this through to a happy ending.”
For the latest on Meatball’s saga, or to donate to the habitat fund, call 619.659.8078, or visit www.lionstigersandbears.org. To follow him online, go to Twitter and in the search box, type @TheGlendaleBear.