Relocation on hold for 'Meatball' the bear

Wandering bear currently living at Alpine facility

ALPINE, Calif. - Relocation into the wild plans were on hold Thursday for a 400-pound black bear that was moved to a cage at an Alpine animal sanctuary after leaving the Angeles National Forest one too many times to visit foothill communities north of downtown Los Angeles.

Affectionately known as Meatball because he likes to eat them, the bear was found taking a swim in the pool of a La Canada Flintridge home on Aug. 29. He was recaptured by a Department of Fish and Game warden who set a trap baited with bacon and honey.

It was at least the third time in recent months Meatball had visited suburbia.

"All it takes is one time to feed the bears and this is what can happen to a bear," said Bobbi Brink, founder of the 93-acre Lions, Tigers and Bears rehabilitation and animal sanctuary.

Instead of being returned to the wild yet again last week, Meatball was taken to the Alpine facility, where he waits in quarantine in a 15- by 20-foot cage to be permanently relocated to the 720-acre Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colo.

Though the move to the Rocky Mountain state was initially expected to take place by this week, a Colorado regulation has put the plan on hold, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"For now, Meatball's fate is up in the air," said Brink.

At debate is a Colorado statute that allows the transfer versus a wildlife regulation that does not, the newspaper reported.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say the prohibitive regulation states, "No wildlife taken from the wild shall be possessed by any wildlife sanctuary."

However, Pat Craig, executive director of the Colorado sanctuary, told The Times there is a section of Colorado Revised Statutes that defines "wildlife sanctuary" as "a place of refuge where a nonprofit entity ... provides care for abused, neglected, unwanted, impounded, abandoned, orphaned, or displaced wildlife for their lifetime."

Craig argued the prohibitive regulation is being misinterpreted and that its main goal is to prevent wild animals in Colorado rehab facilities from overpopulating such sanctuaries, not to keep bears like Meatball out. He said his attorneys are working with the Colorado attorney general's office to find a solution.

If there's no place for Meatball to go, Brink said, "Right now, there's not enough habitats for Meatball at this sanctuary. A large habitat will have to be built and that will be pricey."

If Meatball is moved to Colorado, he will join more than 80 bears that currently roam free in the sanctuary, which has underground dens for hibernating and sometimes gets food donations that can include meatballs and lasagna.

"The great thing is that bears ... get incredible food here. And that's the No. 1 thing bears live for," he said. "It's actually kind of like the Club Med for bears."

Brink said she's looking for donations to expand the current bear habitat, but there is currently no room for Meatball on a permanent basis.

Brink said San Diego Gas & Electric has already said they plan to donate wooden poles for the fencing -- a big part of the overall expense.

Still, it will cost tens of thousands of dollars -- money that will have to be raised.

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