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Glendale bear has become a celebrity, worrying authorities

Twitter and other media have made 'Glen Bearian' a social phenomenon. If public safety issues force authorities to kill the animal, there will be a lot of explaining to do.

July 13, 2012|By Matt Stevens, Los Angeles Times
  • La Crescenta resident Tim MacDonald photographed the animal known as Glen Bearian, with a trash bag between his jaws, back in town about six weeks after Fish and Game authorities thought they'd gotten rid of the creature for good by relocating him about 25 miles away in the Angeles National Forest.
La Crescenta resident Tim MacDonald photographed the animal known as Glen… (Tim MacDonald )

The bear affectionately known as "Glen Bearian" or "Meatball" proclaims his love for food in trash cans and makes high-minded allusions to everything from top-40 songs to the Egyptian revolution. He gives bear hugs, tweets wisecracks and once even promised to challenge Kim Kardashian if she ever ran for Glendale mayor.

These days, though, he has stayed busy issuing public safety announcements: "Yo tweeps: who wants me to die? Keep leaving food out & taking pics. ¿#SeeYouInHeaven."

"If they kill the bear, they'd better bury him at Forest Lawn next to Michael Jackson," said Sarah Aujero, 29, owner of the Twitter handle @TheGlendaleBear. "I'm not kidding. They have to."

PHOTOS: Southern California's backyard bears

Aujero, a Glendale resident who drafts licenses for a record label, said she created the Twitter handle in April so her community would stop seeing a threat and start seeing "a side of the bear that they probably don't think about."

It seems to have worked. She executed her plan so perfectly that anxious California Department of Fish and Game officials must now balance the bear's unexpected popularity against public safety. With at least half a dozen reported spottings last week alone — most recently on Friday — Glen Bearian may be slowly wearing out his welcome.

Bears have long roamed into foothill communities looking for food. But in this age of social media, what was once a neighborhood concern can "amplify around the world," according to Robert Hernandez, a Web journalism professor at USC who lives in Glendale.

When a bear wandered through Duarte last week, Twitter lighted up with news, rumors and photos. When a TV chopper caught a homeowner stumbling across Glen Bearian and running the other way, the video clip went viral.

"We live in an era where there is pop-up celebrity-ism," Hernandez said. "Something can just catch fire that moment, whether you control it or not. It's the blessing and the curse."

Other Twitter users have humanized animals with great success — including the escaped Bronx Zoo cobra, a tenacious honey badger and a more local, if less popular, Burbank mountain lion.

Authorities have used Glen Bearian to their advantage, urging Aujero to tweet safety reminders. But whether or not his fame has hurt or helped is still in question.

Fish and Game officials acknowledge that the bear's online persona has forced them to more carefully ponder his fate, but they say his popularity may have also had the unintended consequence of inspiring people to forget basic safety in an effort to feed it or take its picture.

If the bear keeps coming back, and harms property or becomes a threat to public safety, Fish and Game Capt. Michael Stefanak said he could be destroyed.

Even if the bear does no damage, it could be euthanized as a last resort if authorities expend too many resources repeatedly dealing with him the bear, Stefanak said.

"We may decide to destroy it; it's a decision that's out there for us. I'm not saying we're going to do that. But it's a possibility," Stefanak said. "The possibility is also that he could be placed, or he still has a chance to go back to a suitable habitat. Everything is on the table."

Destruction of a bear for public safety reasons is "very rare," Stefanak said. Officials believe the last such incident occurred in San Bernardino County in 2006.

More commonly, a landowner can request a permit for a license to kill a bear. A federal trapper, for example, euthanized a bear near a San Luis Obispo neighborhood as recently as last summer after it repeatedly broke into chicken coops and killed the fowl. A total of 51 bears were destroyed in 2010 after a permit had been issued, according to the most recent data available from the Department of Fish and Game.

That's unlikely to happen in Glendale, where the photogenic bear has already captured the hearts of locals with several clockwork-like food-foraging visits on trash day. In April, his backyard capture in a Montrose neighborhood unfolded on live television as wardens tranquilized him, tagged him and loaded him into a truck while dozens of locals in their pajamas snapped pictures and applauded as he was carried away.

Fish and Game officials shipped him so far away — at least 25 miles into the Angeles National Forest — that spokesman Andrew Hughan said it would take an "Olympic feat" for him to return.

Perhaps he is training for the gold.

About 10 weeks after his trip to the forest, La Crescenta resident Kelly MacDonald spotted Glen Bearian and his orange ear tag on her backyard lawn. The animal returned Monday morning and left with a trash bag between its jaws.

"Hopefully he keeps a low profile," MacDonald said. "I think it's fun for the town. Hopefully it stays fun."

If a warden ultimately has to kill the bear, officials know there will be a lot of explaining to do. That task would fall to Hughan, who said he has been carefully considering how to defuse what could be "the most traumatic thing that I've had to deal with" during his almost two years on the job.

"My heart breaks at the thought that this could happen," Hughan said. "We're going to have to answer for it.... There's going to be all kinds of second-guessing."

matt.stevens@latimes.com

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