With his days of raiding local trash cans or taking a dip in backyard swimming pools appearing numbered, fans of Glendale’s favorite bear, “Meatball,” have started a fundraising campaign to pay for his relocation to a wildlife sanctuary — if and when he gets caught.
The bear, also known by his Twitter persona “Glen Bearian,” returned for a third time to the La Crescenta area this week after having been relocated to Angeles National Forest twice before.
State fish and game officials say that if the bear is caught a third time, they will take the bear to a permanent wildlife refuge in Colorado rather than attempt another relocation.
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 Sarah 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.
“It’s not often that you hear of a bear that’s so animated,” said Aujero, who started the Twitter account @TheGlendaleBear to increase public awareness of the animal. “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.
Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish & Game, said that while officials always try to keep animals wild, a sanctuary may be the best option for Meatball due to the public’s fascination with him.
“This is an extraordinary situation,” Hughan said. “This is very much an exception to policy.”
State officials will try to capture the bear if he visits residents again, Hughan said. But rather than releasing him back into the wild, they plan to temporarily take the bear to a 93-acre animal rescue in San Diego County. If everything falls into place, he would then be transported to a 720-acre sanctuary about 30 miles from Denver, Hughan said.
The sanctuary would pay to take care of him, but it costs about $2,500 to transport the bear, said Pat Craig, executive director of The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.
“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.”
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.
“He won’t have to pick through garbage anymore,” Aujero said.
-- Brittany Levine, Times Community News