“Meatball,” the Glendale bear that was to be shipped off to a Colorado wildlife sanctuary after being trapped last week by a fish and game warden, has now found himself in caged limbo.
The 400-pound black bear that returned to the La Crescenta-Montrose area despite twice being relocated deep inside the Angeles National Forest remains in a 15-by-20-foot cage at the Lions, Tigers and Bears sanctuary in Alpine in San Diego County while officials decide his fate.
At issue is whether a Colorado law allows wild animals to be housed at sanctuaries in the Rocky Mountain state.
“It’s not an ideal situation,” said Department of Fish & Game spokesman Andrew Hughan. “The wildlife center in Colorado really wants the bear, but there’s regulatory issues.”
While devising a plan to capture the bear — which ultimately included a trail of McDonald’s French fries leading to a trap filled with bacon and honey — officials did not know there may be legal roadblocks, Hughan added.
But Pat Craig, executive director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary 30 miles outside of Denver, told the L.A. Times that officials in California were misinterpreting the Colorado law, which was meant to ensure bears in rehabilitation facilities return to the wild rather than sanctuaries.
The bear, also known by his Twitter handle as “Glen Bearian,” will be kept in his caged quarantine facility as California officials comb through the law.
Sarah Aujero, the Glendale resident who helped launch the bear to Internet stardom by creating the Twitter account @TheGlendaleBear, said she hopes that the disagreement is resolved soon, and that the Colorado sanctuary — which is about five times the size of the Alpine facility — is chosen.
“I’m still planning on going to Colorado with the bear,” said Aujero, who helped devise the plan to temporarily house the bear in Alpine before moving him to Colorado.
She also plans to visit the bear this weekend.
Hughan said his department’s legal advisors and law enforcement teams are carefully evaluating the law to make sure the right decision is made according to Colorado’s law.
If Meatball stays in Alpine, the bear would have to live in a cage until an open-air facility is built for him. There are other sanctuaries in California, but not many, and they may not have room for the bear, Hughan said.
He acknowledged that, until officials make a final determination, Meatball would remain in his cage and not “have a lot of mobility, but said he was in a “loving environment” at Lions, Tigers and Bears.
Hughan also assured the public that Meatball’s fate was a top priority for the entire department, and that “we’re not going to kick him to the curb.”
“We’re going to decide on what’s best for the bear,” Hughan said. “The wheels of government turn slowly sometimes.”
Matt Stevens at the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.