Having acquired a taste for dog food, baklava, meatballs and other metropolitan fare, Glendale's bear has apparently been experiencing menu shock since being captured on Wednesday.
Concerned that the bear hasn't been eating much from a smorgasbord of food — including avocados, fruit, even marshmallows — since arriving at a sanctuary in San Diego County after his early morning capture, his handlers on Thursday decided to switch it up.
The 400-pound ursine dubbed "Meatball" was slated to get one of his famously all-time favorites — meatballs.
The decision to tap the talents of a local Italian restaurant to tempt Meatball with his namesake dish will hopefully whet his appetite for other food, said Bobbi Brink, executive director of Lions, Tigers and Bears in Alpine, where the bear is staying until he is transported to a permanent sanctuary in Colorado.
The meatballs, about the size of a large hardboiled egg and made with beef and special seasonings, hail from Bongiovanni's Italian Restaurant in El Cajon east of San Diego.
The restaurant's owner, Zino Bongiovanni, said Meatball certainly qualified as his first ursine customer.
"I was thinking I'd maybe accompany it with a glass of red wine," he said jokingly, adding that the sanctuary planned to pick up the donated meatballs in the afternoon in time for dinner.
It wouldn't be the first time officials have played to Meatball's affinity for human food for their own ends. All it took was a McDonald's Happy Meal, a few French fries, some honey and bacon to lure Glendale's favorite bear into a trap on Wednesday — no tranquilizer needed.
Before Wednesday, the bear had been caught twice since April in the foothills above Glendale — returning each time after being relocated by California Fish & Game officials deep into Angeles National Forest.
Although state officials prefer to keep animals in the wilderness, the bear's multiple returns and popularity among residents prompted plans to send him to a sanctuary.
The bear, also known by his more than 28,000 Twitter fans as "Glen Bearian," will stay in a fenced-off quarantine facility about the size of a living room for about a week. Then it's off on an 18-hour journey to his permanent home, a large sanctuary in Colorado 30 miles outside of Denver.
Brink said she would like to keep Meatball in Southern California, but the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado has about seven times as much space.
Meanwhile, Brink said the bear has been mostly resting and splashing in a small pool of water.
"He looks a little sad," she said. "I think he knows he's not going back into the woods."
-- Brittany Levine, Times Community News