Colorado officials say the popular Glendale bear known as “Meatball” — trapped and taken to a temporary rescue facility in San Diego County — will not be permitted residency at a sanctuary in the Rocky Mountain state.
“This bear can’t come to Colorado,” said Randy Hamilton, spokesman for Colorado Parks & Wildlife, pointing to state regulations that prevent sanctuaries from accepting wild animals.
There’s been a tug-of-war over the 400-pound bear since he was caught last week in La Cañada Flintridge. He had already been relocated deep inside the Angeles National Forest twice after snacking on food such as meatballs and baklava found in foothill neighborhoods above Glendale.
California and Colorado fish and game officials both say state rules prevent the bear from moving to Colorado, but the large animal sanctuary where Meatball was destined disagrees.
Pat Craig, executive director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary, said officials are misinterpreting the law, which was meant to prevent wild animals that came from rehabilitation facilities from going to sanctuaries. But that intent, he added, has since been forgotten.
Craig, who rescued two wild bear cubs whose mother had been shot after rummaging through cabins in Northern California about three weeks ago, said he’s long sheltered wild animals from California at his facility.
But Hamilton, who called the bear’s situation “tragic,” said it’s a violation of the sanctuary’s license to do that.
When officials put a plan in place to trap the bear and send him to Colorado, they did not know of the regulation, said California Department of Fish and Game spokesman Andrew Hughan.
“We’ve got enough of our own laws to remember,” he said.
But Craig said he intends to keep trying to bring Meatball to Colorado, even if he has to file a lawsuit.
“It’s dire that everybody calm down and let us get this fixed,” Craig said.
The bear was taken to a rescue facility in Alpine in San Diego County called Lions, Tigers and Bears after being caught. He was supposed to spend about a week in a 15-by-20-foot caged quarantine facility, but he will remain there until California officials decide what to do with him.
The process could take weeks, Hughan added.
The Alpine facility doesn’t have enough space — or money — to shelter the bear permanently. And even if they raised enough money, the bear would have to remain caged until then.
Sending the bear to a sanctuary was a rare exception to state policy to begin with. But the bear, also known by its Twitter handle, “Glen Bearian,” had become so popular that it developed a loyal fan base, putting fish and game officials in a rough spot.
Sarah Aujero, the Glendale resident who played a large role in the bear’s popularity by creating the Twitter account, @TheGlendaleBear, said Wednesday that she was worried about the fate of Meatball and planned to visit him in Alpine.
But whatever special exceptions Meatball's popularity afforded him in California would have no bearing on decisions made in Colorado, Hamilton said.
“Our regulation in Colorado is clear. It doesn’t have an exception for how many Twitter followers you may have,” Hamilton said, adding that Colorado officials will relocate a bear one time, but if it becomes a nuisance, the bear is put down.
“That sounds callous, but it prevents situations like this,” Hamilton said, adding that bears are attracted to human food if left out for them to find. “This is people’s fault, and that never feels good.”