A wayward black bear caught in a Southern California suburb is now at the heart of a legal battle between a Colorado wildlife sanctuary and the state’s parks and wildlife department.
Meatball, the popular bear with a penchant for junk food, was supposed to take permanent shelter at the Wild Animal Sanctuary (WAS) in Colorado.
However, a state law prohibits sanctuaries like WAS from taking in wild animals like Meatball.
The hesitance in Colorado pushed wildlife rescuers at the Lions, Tigers and Bears sanctuary in Alpine -- who were housing Meatball temporarily -- to launch a campaign to build a permanent enclosure for him. The sanctuary hopes to raise enough money to build a permanent enclosure for the bear.
On Wednesday, WAS announced they had filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department and the Department of Natural Resources. The sanctuary is asking a judge to intervene and issue a restraining order so they can attain Meatball, according to WAS Founder and Executive Director Pat Craig.
“We know the [Lions Tigers and Bears Sanctuary] is building a habitat for Meatball, but that could take weeks, if not months,” Craig said. “We’re doing this so that he can get into the facility we already have built for him.”
Craig said the law banning Meatball from his sanctuary was written in 2005 in response to abuses at animal rehabilitation facilities. Years later, the department is interpreting the law differently, he said.
“It’s sad that Meatball got caught in their interpretation,” Craig said.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife department could not comment on the pending litigation. Although, department spokesman Randy Hampton said changing the law for Meatball isn’t out of the question.
“Colorado has a process by which citizens who wish to change regulations can petition the Parks and Wildlife commission to do so,” Hampton said.
Hampton added that the publicity swarming around Meatball’s destination is an important reminder of the respect owed to wild animals.
“We work very hard to educate our citizens to live responsibility, but unfortunately we’ve had to put down dozens of bears because people have failed to do so,” he said. “We do hope this story sends the message so we don’t have more Meatballs in the future.”
In the meantime, Meatball is adapting in Alpine, according to officials with the Lions, Tigers and Bears sanctuary. Poles to support his permanent enclosure were donated by SDG&E and the sanctuary is asking the public for help building a bedroom, enclosed outdoor area and perhaps a swimming pool.
“He is already settling down a bit and we have decided not to uproot this process and haul him across the country only to start the entire process all over again, which would add more stress to an already stressful situation,” read a statement from Bobbi Brink, founder of Lions Tigers and Bears.