The Glendale bear known as “Meatball” was captured Wednesday in La Cañada Flintridge after a game warden lured the popular ursine with bacon and honey -- adding a sense of urgency to a campaign set up by his fans to raise money for his transport to a permanent home at a wildlife sanctuary in Colorado.
The bear, also known on Twitter as “Glen Bearian,” was “resting comfortably” after being captured Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.
The bear was transported to the Lions, Tigers and Bears rehabilitation and animal sanctuary in Alpine, north of San Diego, where he will await transport to the wildlife refuge in Colorado.
“As a wildlife agency our goal is always to keep animals wild, but in this case, the best interest of the bear was to capture and relocate him to a safe and secure facility, said state fish and game spokesman Andrew Hughan.
Sarah Aujero, the Glendale resident who launched the popular Twitter handle @TheGlendaleBear, said she was happy to hear the animal she had been imitating on social media for months had been safely caught.
“I want the bear to be safe,” Aujero said. “I think this is the best for now. Nobody got hurt in the process and there wasn’t a big spectacle. He was able to be captured without a big ruckus.”
But the bear’s transport will cost money, prompting some of his most ardent fans in Glendale to tap into the power of social media to raise funds for the transport by selling T-shirts and buttons.
The first batch of Glendale bear shirts have already proven a hit.
“I’m already running out of sizes,” said Glendale resident Scott Lowe, who with Aujero cooked up the idea to sell merchandise to raise money.
The duo started selling the shirts online at theglendalebear.com Tuesday, the same day Meatball was reportedly spotted swimming in a La Crescenta pool.
The 400-pound bear has been paying regular visits to the foothills for months, munching on meatballs, oranges and baklava. He recently returned for a third time to the La Crescenta area this week after having been relocated to Angeles National Forest twice before.
“It’s not often that you hear of a bear that’s so animated,” said Aujero. “The stories of this bear are something you would find in a children’s book.”
She originally asked Lowe, a technical director at a local animation studio, to draw a cartoon bear for her Twitter account, but then the two realized that the image, a play on California’s flag, could sell shirts to protect the bear.
The shirt design replaces the grizzly bear and red star with a cartoon version of Meatball and a red heart.
About half of the first batch of 50 shirts have been sold for $15 each. The two are also selling $1 buttons featuring the cartoon bear and phrases such as “#bearhug,” a play on Twitter’s symbol for a trending topic. Tote bags and bumper stickers are also in the works.
Aujero began reaching out to animal sanctuaries several months ago, but once a video of a texting pedestrian surprised by the bear went viral, she began getting messages from rescue organizations from as far away as Romania.
Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish & Game, called the public fascination with Meatball an “extraordinary situation.”
“This is very much an exception to policy,” Hughan said.
Meatball’s ultimate destination is the 720-acre Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, about 30 miles from Denver.
The sanctuary will pay to take care of him, but it costs about $2,500 to transport the bear, said Executive Director Pat Craig.
“We’ve rescued bears from California before that had strikes like that,” said Craig, referring to Meatball’s multiple human interactions. “Many bears get put down, but every once in a while there’s a bear like this that is pretty well known in the media.”
The sanctuary plans to send two staff members to get the bear next week. It will take about 18 hours to transport the bear in an air conditioned trailer, Craig said.
“It shouldn’t be a big issue to go out and get him,” he said, adding that there are about 90 other bears at the sanctuary.
From the beginning, Aujero said she’s been driven by a desire to keep the bear alive. Going to a sanctuary, she said, will mean new friends and plenty of food for the popular bear.
She hopes to somehow accompany the bear she helped make so popular in his final journey to Colorado. If that’s not possible, she plans to visit him at his new home.
“He won’t have to pick through garbage anymore,” Aujero said.
-- Brittany Levine and Jason Wells, Times Community News