Perhaps it should have been a given that a black bear with a taste for Costco meatballs, that came back for seconds and thirds — despite being relocated twice — and that had no problem holding his own on live TV would become a media sensation.
But in March, when “Meatball” first burst onto the scene, few could have imagined just how deep he'd end up ingratiating himself in the hearts and minds of thousands of fans, many of them in different time zones.
One of them created a Twitter account on his behalf, taking on the name “Glen Bearian” and the task of generating a huge amount of social media buzz that, ultimately, saved the ursine's life.
Is it any wonder Meatball is 2012's Newsmaker of the Year?
The bear not only made it into newspapers and onto nightly newscasts throughout the year, but also onto Christmas Tree ornaments, T-shirts, bumper stickers and tote bags thanks to fans eager to help pay for his permanent enclosure at a wildlife sanctuary in San Diego County.
The bear was spotted dipping into trash cans and neighborhood pools multiple times in the spring, mostly during the wee hours of the morning. Soon after, Glendale resident Sarah Aujero started the Twitter account, @theglendalebear, that helped boost the bear's celebrity. It now has about 28,000 followers.
Then in April, Meatball ramped up his public persona when he was caught by a television news helicopter as he roamed from yard to yard in La Crescenta, hopping fences along the way.
He eventually made his way to the sidewalk, famously spooking a pedestrian who was too busy texting on his phone to notice the approaching bear.
Officials with the California Department of Fish & Game soon tranquilized the black bear and carted him miles into the Angeles National Forest, releasing him with an orange ear tag with the number 210.
wrote: “I'll be back.”
And he was.
There were bear sightings in the summer and in July, and he was once again tranquilized and taken back into the forest — this time farther away. When he came back again in August, any other bear would been euthanized, but by then Meatball had grown too popular.
Instead, a game warden used McDonald's French fries, bacon and honey to lure Meatball into a trap, after which he would be taken to his final destination — the Lions, Tigers & Bears animal sanctuary in Alpine.
Since then, Lions, Tigers and Bears has been raising money to build Meatball a new $250,000, 4-acre outdoor home. For months, he lived in a 15-by-20 foot quarantine cage, but in December he was moved to a larger cage next to four other bears.
If he gets along with the other male, “Sugar Bear,” he may be able to roam in their outdoor area while he awaits his new home.
The sanctuary has so far raised more than $120,000 through donations, auctioning off the wildlife ear tag and selling Christmas tree ornaments featuring Meatball wearing a Photoshopped Santa hat.
The ornaments sold out.
Aujero and other Glendale fans have been selling shirts, tote bags and other items with a cartoon version of the bear, with proceeds to benefit the sanctuary's fundraising campaign. They've made $2,500 so far and expect that to increase by about $700 after they tally holiday earnings.
“Because of everybody's love and support for this bear, he has a great home now,” Aujero said.
-- Brittany Levine, Times Community News
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