Meatball, the famed Glendale bear, seems to be adjusting to his new life in San Diego County, snacking on Little Debbie strawberry shortcake rolls and peanut butter-and-honey sandwiches — but his new caretakers say they are short of the money needed for a new habitat for the 500-pound bruin.
Also known as "Glen Bearian," the black bear spent his first months at Lions, Tigers & Bears in a 15-by-20-foot caged quarantine area, and then in a 12-foot-by-18-foot "safety bedroom" near three other bears. After a period of adjustment, he now gets to hang out in their open-air habitat, but in a portion of it that has been sectioned off.
"Since he was likely alone in the wild, we want to make sure he becomes accustomed to living with the other bears before we place him in contact with the other bears on the property," the facility's owner, Bobbi Brink, said in an email.
The Alpine nonprofit has been working on building Meatball his own habitat for months, but after final construction plans were complete, officials discovered that the bear's new home will cost $50,000 more than originally expected.
Lions, Tigers & Bears has raised $162,000, more than half the $300,000 needed to complete the project.
While some work has been done to Meatball's new habitat, Brink said sanctuary officials are aiming to be done with the four-acre facility by this summer. The sanctuary is planning another fundraiser in May.
Meatball, who got his nickname after being caught eating frozen Costco meatballs from a garage refrigerator, has been in the public eye since before he was transported to Lions, Tigers & Bears in August.
Although wildlife officials tranquilized the bear twice last year and each time relocated him deep in the Angeles National Forest, he soon found his way back to local foothill neighborhoods to forage for food. His love of meatballs, kabob and other leftovers made fodder for a popular Twitter account created in his name by a Glendale resident.
At one point, a news helicopter caught Meatball spooking a passerby, who came face-to-face with the bruin while texting.
In August, state fish and game officials trapped the bear using honey and McDonald's French fries as bait and transported him to Alpine. At the time, observers noted Meatball's popularity helped save him from being euthanized after he became accustomed to human food and neighborhoods.
Now, rather than nosing through trash cans, Meatball spends his days splashing in his water tub. Some of his new favorite foods include raw nuts, avocados and oatmeal cookies.
For more information about the project or to donate, visit http://www.lionstigersandbears.org/meatball