July 3, 2009 ADMJ --Carole Raphaelle Davis
Michael Jackson did not love animals. He loved to collect them. He loved owning them like a sheik owns his harem.
As details emerge about the bizarre life of Michael Jackson, questions about the animals who were housed in his private zoo of exotic pets remain unanswered. Members of the animal welfare community wonder whether Jackson was truly an animal lover or merely a collector who abandoned his dozens of exotic pets, leaving them to be scattered, with no endowment, in different facilities around the country.
Recent photographs of Michael Jackson's private zoo have been released by TMZ.com. The photographs are of the emptied interior and the abandoned grounds of Jackson's Neverland Ranch north of Santa Barbara. The photographs of the zoo enclosures are particularly disturbing to some in the animal protection movement.
Jackson owned wild animals, including giraffes, elephants, tigers, crocodiles and monkeys and housed them in what appears to be caged conditions. Though the animals' enclosures might not have been illegal, they were inhumane. And though no animals currently reside there, their former home reveals much about how the animals lived.
Mr. Jackson bought the ranch in the late 1980s. There, he set up a zoo to house exotic pets. What happened to them when he left the ranch — and the United States — after his acquittal on charges that he molested a teenage cancer survivor in 2003?
There are numerous reports that the animals were sold at auction, that some went to sanctuaries, that some are being cruelly warehoused in Arizona, that caretakers were not paid after he left the property and that Michael Jackson was sued by his veterinarian for a six-figure unpaid bill for treatment of the Neverland animals.
Though the rooms inside the home look luxurious, the enclosures for his private collection of large, wild animals look woefully inadequate. The cages and outdoor enclosures appear not to meet the minimum standards of humane care that is required for the well-being of the animals living there.
The photo of the elephant cage tells the story of a grim existence.
"It's a very small space with a concrete floor which is detrimental to elephants' joints and feet," says Catherine Doyle, elephant specialist and Los Angeles director of campaigns for In Defense of Animals. "It looks like a concrete cell. It's no way to keep an elephant; there's no way that type of enclosure could ever meet their needs. It's a depressing, small, impoverished space."
"Elephants walk tens of miles a day and their home ranges measure hundreds of square miles," continued Catherine Doyle. "They have extremely complex social structures and they live in tightly knit family groups in which the females stay together for life. It's like looking at a prison cell looking at these pictures."
I spoke to undercover investigator Jack Stevens on July 4th. He is an elephant expert, having worked hands on with them both in the Circus and at an Elephant Sanctuary. " I can state categorically that the pictures of the enclosures I've seen at Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch are grossly inadequate to house an elephant, " he said. "Unless the elephant was given long term access to vast acreage on other parts of the ranch where he/she could roam around unimpeded at his/her own leisure I would say that cage bordered on the inhumane."
There are thousands of pictures on the Internet of Neverland ranch and many on-line albums on photo sharing websites that have been uploaded by visitors to Michael Jackson's zoo. In every picture I could find, there are none where the animals are roaming.
It makes financial sense that the zoo keepers would keep potentially dangerous animals from having access to visitors. A zoo accident could have been costly. But given Michael Jackson's enormous wealth, the grounds could and should have been equiped like a sanctuary, where his exotic pets could have lived in a humane setting while on display. The Neverland grounds, even in their decayed and delapidated state, look like what they are: a children's amusement park which also had zoo animals in cages. The zoo area, was just that--a zoo, and as far as zoos go, not a very pleasant one for its captives.
"It reminds me of the pictures you see coming out of Guantanamo," said Jack Stevens. "Elephants are highly social, intelligent, sentient beings. To house a single elephant in a concrete cell is cruel. Let's not forget that the elephant who was confined in a tiny stall had his/her own family and friends and no doubt longed for them but was denied because of the selfishness of humans."
I spoke with Jane Garrison, an animal advocate and contributing author of "Elephants and Ethics" (Johns Hopkins Press). While she was running an international program to protect elephants ten years ago, she was so concerned about a paricular elephant at Michael Jackson's zoo, she contacted the Neverland veterinarian.
"I was horrified that this incredibly social animal was being housed alone and I contacted Michael Jackson's representative to get the elephant moved to a sanctuary, " said Ms. Garrison. "They live their entire lives with their mothers, their sisters, their aunts... so no amount of space could make up for this. Keeping a female elephant alone is actually the cruelest thing you can do to her."
"I tried to get them to retire that elephant and the vet wouldn't budge," continued Ms. Garrison. "They have job security by having an elephant there. Any vet who approves of a female elephant being alone certainly does not have the best interest of the animal at heart."
Ms. Garrison added that even the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), which is regarded with disdain by the animal rights community for acrediting confinement of animals, is against the housing of a lone female elephant. "There is no way to humanely keep an elephant in captivity when you consider their physical and social needs," she said.
On July 1, CNN issued a report that featured Bubbles, the Chimpanzee Jackson brought on tour with him in the 80's. When Bubbles became "too difficult" (Bubbles bit a hole in Quincy Jone's daughter's hand) he was returned to the trainer who originally bought him from a facility in Texas that breeds chimps for research. The trainer handed Bubbles over to the Great Apes Sanctuary in Florida, where he is retired and thriving with other chimpanzees. As in the case of other Neverland animals, he was surrendered with no endowment for their care.
Fans of Michael Jackson insist he loved Bubbles but a more skeptical look at TMZ photos of Bubbles' former cage reveals that he lived in a zoo, not a sanctuary. He lived a solitary existence in a cage when he wasn't on display. Chimpanzees are social animals and thrive in a naturalistic environment with other chimpanzees. Bubbles was dressed like a toddler and treated like a living toy for Michael Jackson's pleasure. He is certainly happier now, climbing and enjoying the company of friends, not gawkers.
According to the London Standard, two of Michael Jackson's tigers did not find buyers when his zoo animals were auctioned. Tipi Hedren, who is the mother of actress Melanie Griffith, adopted the tigers after animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) broke the news of the deplorable conditions the animals were living under.
"They, as did 98% of the animals requiring sanctuary at the Shambala Preserve, came with no bank account or dowry," said Tipi Hedren. "As a sanctuary, that's what we do. We rescue exotic felines who have been born in the U.S. to be sold as pets or for commercial use. It is a grave human error to acquire a wild animal as a pet."
Certainly, the desire to own or have dominion over dangerous wild animals has psychological implications. Psychologist, author and animal advocate Jana Kohl told me she wanted to cry when she saw the pictures of Michael Jackon's zoo enclosures. Her opinion of the zoo includes the psychic suffering its owner.
"The physical and emotional abuse Joe Jackson inflicted upon his son, including objectifying Michael as if he were a possession, merely there for his own narcissistic needs, was sadly something Michael repeated himself," said Dr. Kohl. "He thoughtlessly acquired exotic living beings whose own needs were secondary to his insatiable child-like drive to collect and display as many prized possessions as he could, like the priceless objets d'art he bought by the truckloads. The animals were there for his amusement, and whether or not they suffered in cramped or unnatural conditions appeared to be something he was incapable of recognizing. If Michael had spent a fraction of his fortune in therapy, understanding and mourning his painful past, he would have likely made different and more conscious choices, including being able to empathize with creatures who have no voice, just as he had no voice as a child, other than the one he created for performing."
Michael Jackson might have professed to love animals but upon closer inspection, his relationship to them was less than loving. You don't sell your pets when you tire of them. Nor should you buy pets that you can't commit to for their lifetime. A responsible pet guardian makes arrangements for their care.
Michael Jackson used wild animals for his entertainment and as a lure to delight the children he wanted to surround himself with and then he abandoned them, both financially and emotionally.
Supposedly unable to care for his private zoo as a result of "financial troubles," Jackson continued his lavish spending right until the end, where he was leasing a California castle for $100,000 a month while his former animals, the ones lucky enough to live in sanctuaries, depend on donations from the public.
As the public waits to discover the specific contents of the Michael Jackson family trust, a private document that instructs how his assets are to be allocated, some of us in the animal protection movement hope that a few dollars will go towards the animals he abandoned. So far, the details released to the press are as follows: 40% to his mother. 40% to his children. The remaining 20% is to be distributed to undisclosed children's charities.
Nothing to animals.
Michael Jackson never visited Bubbles once he gave him away. Maybe John Branca, the executor of his estate, will throw him a banana.
Carole Raphaelle Davis is the author of "The Diary of Jinky, Dog of a Hollywood wife" and West Coast Director of The companion Animal Protection Society