With any luck, Meatball the Bear’s new neighbor at a San Diego sanctuary will share his love for peanut butter and honey sandwiches, avocados and playing in trash cans.
Since August, the bear who garnered headlines for his voracious appetite and frequent adventures into San Gabriel Mountain foothill communities has been living in a 15-by-20-foot quarantine facility while his bedroom at Lions, Tigers and Bears Sanctuary is under construction.
Next month, he’ll be moved next to Sugar Bear, the sanctuary’s only other male bruin. The pair will be introduced in the hopes they’ll be able to live together in a new 8-acre habitat.
"If there’s any chance, those would be the two that would fight because they’re two males," said Bobbi Brink, founder and director. "If … they can get along, they can get the whole Taj Mahal."
The welding on Meatball’s bedroom is set to be completed on Oct. 26. The next day, he’s scheduled to undergo a full medical exam – including a dental checkup, swapping out his ear tag for a microchip and neutering. Once his incisions are healed, which can take up to two weeks, he’ll be put next to Sugar Bear.
It could take weeks or even months before officials at Lions, Tigers and Bears know whether the two are a match.
"You don’t know till you move the bears over there," Brink said, adding that there will be a fence between the two bears during the temporary transition.
If the pair doesn’t mesh well, Brink said there’s a contingency plan: Meatball gets one half of the habitat, Sugar Bear gets the other.
"If they don’t get along, whichever girls want to go live on Meatball’s side can do that," she said, referring the sanctuary’s three female bruins.
Each of the bears has their own bedroom that branches off the main habitat, which occupies 4 acres before the new addition is completed. The larger facility is being built to comply with requirements that a sanctuary offers at least 1 acre for every bear kept in captivity, Brink said.
After more than a dozen possible sightings, Meatball, aka Glen Bearian, was captured thanks to a trail of French fries during his third entrapment by the California Department of Fish and Game.
The 400-pound visitor was expected to move to Colorado, but instead has become the heart of a legal battle. Wild Animal Sanctuary vied to take in the bear, but a state law prohibits sanctuaries from taking in wild animals.
Colorado’s hesitance spurred the sanctuary to launch a campaign to build a permanent home for him. And introducing him to the other bears at the San Diego sanctuary strongly suggests Meatball may continue to be a SoCal bruin.
"I pretty much think we’re keeping him," Brink said, adding that California Fish and Game will not let Meatball leave the Golden State while the lawsuit is ongoing.
Some $100,000 has been raised to support the new habitat. The sanctuary still has about $150,000 to go before it means its goal, Brink said. To donate to the bears’ new home, click here.