Meatball The Bear Saved By Online Campaign

Greg Milam, US Correspondent

A 500lb black bear, whose repeated visits to a Los Angeles neighbourhood earned him celebrity status, will be allowed to live thanks to an online campaign to save him.

Meatball, named because of his habit of taking frozen meatballs from garage freezers, has been moved to a wild animal sanctuary in the mountains of southern California.

He became a fixture on American television screens through the summer, rummaging through bins and clambering over garden fences.

Officials from the California Department of Fish and Game captured him a number of times and returned him to his home in the Angeles National Forest but Meatball kept coming back.

He may have travelled up to 200 miles to reach the same neighbourhood. Usually a bear that demonstrates such an interest in residential areas would be put down.

But the publicity around Meatball's story has saved his life: a massive online campaign, led by a Twitter account in his name, has prompted a fundraising drive to build his new home.

Bobbi Brink, founder of the Lions, Tigers and Bears sanctuary near San Diego which Meatball now calls home, said they have already raised half of the \$250,000 (£155,000) needed to craft a new six-acre habitat.

She said: "It is heart-warming that people care about animals as much as we do. He is a very loved bear, a very special bear. He's beautiful.

"He's got a great sense of humour, he's funny and smart and I can't wait to get him out into the habitat because he wants out now."

Meatball now enjoys a diet including grapes and, his particular favourite, peanut butter sandwiches.

Although black bears are generally considered to be less of a threat to humans, experts regularly issue advice to people living near bear habitats on what to do in the event of an encounter with the animal.

Their appearances in Los Angeles neighbourhoods have become more frequent as bears seek out regular sources of food.

Some in the suburb of Glendale believed Meatball had worked out which day rubbish bins were put out for collection.

Meatball will share his home with one male and three female bears in a sanctuary which also houses big cats rescued from private collections or abuse.

Wildlife experts say it would be impractical to re-home more wild bears - Meatball is the lucky one.