Glendale bear has become a celebrity, worrying authorities

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."

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."


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-- Matt Stevens, Los Angeles Times

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