Auction for 'Meatball' the bear taken offline

Selling of bear fur in auction could be illegal

ALPINE, Calif. - An online auction set up to raise funds for a San Diego County wildlife sanctuary caring for a bear that repeatedly raided L.A. County foothill communities was off the eBay website Thursday, possibly because a lock of fur was among the items up for bid.

Officials at Lions, Tigers and Bears in Alpine said that $105,000 had been raised toward a goal of $250,000 for completing Meatball's four-acre habitat and that they hoped the auction of the animal's ear tag, a paw print and a lock of fur would boost donations.

But the auction, which opened Wednesday and was to expire on Nov. 16, was removed from eBay's site just hours after bidding began.

The inclusion of the lock of fur in the auction may be in violation of state law, California Department of Fish and Game spokesman Andrew Hughan told the Los Angeles Times.

"The sale of bear parts is illegal in California and DFG is investigating," he told the newspaper.

"We're just always trying to find creative ways to make a little money to involve the community," said Bobbi Brink of Lion Tigers and Bears. "They're a restricted species, and it's illegal to sell any body part of a bear … We should have known better."

Lions, Tiger and Bears collected Meatball's fur from the ground, since Brink said he sheds every day. The sanctuary also has fur from when Meatball was shaved during a medical checkup. The sanctuary said it keeps the fur to show kids when they visit.

"They can't touch and pet these animals, but at least they can touch and feel the hair," said Brink.

The animal, a California brown bear weighing about 500 pounds and known as both Meatball and Glen Bearian -- an allusion to Glendale, which he came to like frequenting -- was captured in August, having been caught and returned to the Angeles National Forest twice before.

At that point, wildlife experts concluded that Meatball had grown too reliant on humans, foraging through garbage in foothill cities.

He earned the nickname Meatball when he was spotted raiding a garage freezer for Costco meatballs. On another occasion, he was spotted taking a dip in a pool in La Canada-Flintridge.

His freewheeling ended with his capture in August, when he was taken to the Alpine wildlife sanctuary.

While sedated, Meatball had his "210" Fish and Game ear tag removed, was "paw printed" and had a few locks of his fur clipped for display in the sanctuary's education center.

The 5- or 6-year-old bear has since been neutered and had an identifying microchip placed under his skin, according to Lions, Tigers and Bears, which acquired another wayward bear, dubbed Sugar Bear, from a closed sanctuary in Ohio last month.

Meatball has been given a clean bill of health, after being tested for parasites and undergoing a dental exam.

According to Lions, Tigers and Bears, the habitat's 12-by-18-foot "safety bedroom" is nearly complete and Meatball will be moved there as soon as possible.

Bears that repeatedly return to populated areas are sometimes euthanized, but Meatball was spared. Initially, he was to be held at the Alpine sanctuary temporarily, then moved to a 720-acre sanctuary in Kennesburg, Colo.

But Colorado wildlife officials blocked those plans, citing a Colorado statute that says "no wildlife taken from the wild shall be possessed by any wildlife sanctuary."

Fish and Game officials said it won't cite Lions, Tigers and Bears since it believes it was an innocent mistake.

"It was just good intention gone bad," said Brink. "We're all animal lovers here. Nobody meant anything. We're just trying to have fun."

The setback leaves the sanctuary thousands of dollars short of the amount needed to build the habitat.

"The entire project will cost about $250,000," said Brink. "We've raised over $105,000."

10News wasn't allowed to see Meatball while visiting the sanctuary. Brink said he was recently neutered and is still in quarantine.

Donations can still be made through the sanctuary's website, www.lionstigersandbears.org.
 

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