The Glendale bear known as “Meatball” has had to acclimate to new food and a new home during captivity, and by the end of the month, he’ll have to adjust to a new neighbor.
Since being transported to the Lions, Tigers & Bears animal sanctuary in San Diego County in August, the bear known for his appetite has been living in a 15-by-20-foot quarantine facility while officials raise money to build him a new 4-acre habitat.
But that will soon change when he gets a new neighbor later this month — “Sugar Bear,” a male ursine that was rescued in June from a closed sanctuary in Ohio.
The two come from completely different backgrounds. Meatball is of the wilderness, made famous for his multiple trash foraging jaunts in the hills above Glendale earlier this year. Sugar Bear, however, has grown up in captivity.
“It’s like setting up your best friend on a blind date,” said Bobbi Brink, founder of Lions, Tigers & Bears in Alpine. “Is it going to work? These are wild animals. They have a mind of their own.”
Just how the two bears interact will be closely watched because if they hit it off, Meatball could be introduced to the existing habitat on an interim basis while his new facility is built.
The sanctuary has raised $90,000 of the $250,000 needed to build Meatball his own habitat.
Interest in Meatball’s story has remained high ever since the 400-pound bear — which got his nickname after he was first caught eating frozen Costco meatballs from a garage refrigerator — was caught by a news helicopter strolling through a neighborhood north of Glendale, turning it into a social media darling.
After twice being tranquilized and relocated deep into the Angeles National Forest, state fish and game officials trapped him once more using honey, bacon and McDonald’s French fries as bait. Meatball escaped the fate typically assigned to such bears — euthanasia — and was instead transported to the facility in Alpine.
While Meatball waits for his new outdoor home to be built, he will be living in a 12-by-18-foot “safety bedroom” that looks like a cage. It will include a separate 8-by-10-foot area to place him in while the cage is being cleaned.
All four bears at Lions, Tigers & Bears live in “safety bedrooms” along the perimeter of their habitat. The cages have openings so the bears can enter the habitat as they please, but most spend a lot of time in their “safety bedrooms.”
Meatball’s will temporarily be placed next to Sugar Bear’s. If they don’t seem to get along, Meatball won’t be able to rotate into the existing habitat while his new home is under construction, which could take months depending on fundraising efforts, Brink said.
His planned habitat could accommodate more bear rescues in the future and could be connected to the existing facility, which includes a pool and water fountain, as well as “hammocks” made of recycled fire hoses.
As for Meatball’s menu, Susan Burchett, a volunteer at Lions, Tigers & Bears, said it remains heavy on fruits, nuts, fish and his favorites — peanut butter and honey.
But, she added, “he gets an occasional meatball.”