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The bear called Meatball might stay in California after all

The San Diego County sanctuary hosting the black bear in a quarantine cage is preparing to build a habitat where he could live permanently. Meanwhile, a Colorado sanctuary still wants him.

September 11, 2012|By Matt Stevens, Los Angeles Times
  • The bear known as Meatball and Glen Bearian cools off in a tub of water at his temporary home at the Lions, Tigers & Bears sanctuary in Alpine, Calif.
The bear known as Meatball and Glen Bearian cools off in a tub of water at his… (Lions, Tigers & Bears )

To the bear known as Meatball, taste matters.

After almost two weeks in a quarantine cage, his discriminating palate is back on display at his temporary home in Alpine, Calif.

"He's doing OK," said Bobbi Brink, director of the Lions, Tigers & Bears sanctuary, where Meatball was taken by wildlife officials Aug. 29. "He's eating a lot of grapes. He's just randomly picking through what he wants. He loves avocados. Avocados and grapes. He probably wishes for a glass of wine."

PHOTOS: The Glendale bear captured for good?

A true California bear. And now he may stay that way.

Brink confirmed Monday that she has begun the process of creating a new habitat at the 93-acre facility to provide a permanent home for the 400-pound black bear.

She said she is soliciting estimates for the habitat, which must measure at least 1 acre. The facility already has a designated area big enough for four bears, but it is at capacity.

From March through August, the bear also known as Glen Bearian won the hearts of Los Angeles-area residents as he lumbered through neighborhoods in Glendale, La Crescenta and Montrose — especially on trash day. He seemed almost human after opening a refrigerator and consuming Costco meatballs, clinching his status as a media darling.

Officials with the California Department of Fish and Game twice tranquilized and transported the bear deep into the Angeles National Forest only to see him return. In his third and final go-round with authorities, Meatball followed his nose — French fries and bacon were part of the lure — straight into a culvert trap in the foothills of La Cañada Flintridge.

Initially, Fish and Game officials saw the sanctuary east of San Diego only as a stopover; the eventual destination was the Wild Animal Sanctuary, a 720-acre haven northeast of Denver. That plan fell apart when they learned that a Colorado wildlife regulation appeared to bar any such transfer.

"It doesn't seem like legally the bear is going to be allowed to go to Colorado," Brink said. "I'm almost wishing I had known that in the first place. We could have been a couple weeks ahead on the fundraising."

The price of the Alpine sanctuary's bear habitat — built last year — totaled about $250,000, but it is unclear how much the smaller space would cost.

"We don't want to take our emergency money out for this," Brink said. "What we raise is what we're going to build."

Meanwhile, Pat Craig, director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary, still wants Meatball. He said Monday that he directed his attorneys to explore legal options in hopes to void — or at least put on hold — the Colorado regulation in dispute.

Capt. Mike Stefanak with the California Department of Fish and Game, however, reiterated that "as it stands right now, the bear will not be going to Colorado."

Until things get sorted out, the bear will live in his 15-by-20-foot quarantine cage.

Brink said the bear needs to have blood work done and get microchipped, neutered and "properly rehabilitated." The latter means introducing him gradually to larger and larger spaces as well as to other bears, a process that could take weeks or months.

"It's not like he's going to be turned loose in days just because he has a habitat built," Brink said. "Even if there was a habitat available, this bear could not go in there right now. He's not even close to being ready for that.

"The time in this small cage, I know it looks terrible, but it's the most important for this animal."

It's unclear how long it would take to build a new habitat, but Brink wants it to be ready when Meatball is.

"Day by day, we got to do whatever is best for the bear," she said. "Whether that is being here or being at Pat's right now, we might as well start building."

matt.stevens@latimes.com

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