The verdict is in: Conrad Murray is guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson over two years ago. When Jackson's name started popping up in my Twitter feed again, I got to wondering: What ever happened to all the exotic animals the King of Pop used to keep on the Neverland Ranch?
The Telegraph wondered the same thing last summer, and ran an in-depth piece on Jackson's menagerie on the first anniversary of his death. The Neverland zoo was a veritable Noah's Ark at one time, housing not just Bubbles the chimp and tiger littermates Thriller and Sabu but alligators, giraffes, alpacas, snakes, and elephants.
But Jackson had moved out of Neverland and dispersed his wildlife collection a few years before his death. Confronted by financial setbacks and unable to support the animals financially, he arranged with his trusted vet, Martin Dinnes, to find them safe and healthy homes starting in 2006. (Dinnes had previously sued Jackson for unpaid vet bills, however.)
For some animals, everything worked out. Bubbles, who slept with Jackson and used the master bathroom for years, grew less cuddly and more territorial after the birth of Jackson's son, Prince Michael Jr. Deemed "potentially dangerous," Bubbles moved to the Center for Great Apes in Florida. Although he couldn't handle Bubbles anymore, Jackson would still visit his friend, and half the yearly tab for Bubbles's care is still furnished by the Jackson estate. You can visit Bubbles's page at the Center for Great Apes.
The giraffes didn't fare as well. Freddie Hancock brought four of Neverland's giraffes to her animal sanctuary after Jackson left the ranch, planning to start a wildlife preserve with her husband, Tommy. But two, Rambo and JJ, died under mysterious circumstances -- while the Hancocks were embroiled in a battle with the Page, AZ authorities over bonding the giraffes in case of emergency. Hancock claimed a disgruntled local may have murdered the giraffes; others assert that Hancock lacked experience with the animals, neglecting them and allowing them to freeze. The Hancocks apparently planned to decamp to Utah, where the giraffes stayed at a "secret location" prior to moving to a new home...and that's all the information I could find. The Facebook page dedicated to possible foul play involving the giraffes' deaths has remained quiet for some time, so if you have more recent information on these long-legged friends, I'd love to hear it in the comments.
Tigers Thriller and Sabu, meanwhile, headed for the Shambala Preserve five years ago, where they've lived since. The preserve is run by a non-profit called The Roar Foundation, whose founder and president, Tippi Hedren, you may recognize as the star of Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds' (and mom to Melanie Griffith). When Jackson's red 'Thriller' jacket sold for $1.8 million at auction earlier this year, part of the proceeds went to fund the tigers' care.
More on Bubbles (he could moonwalk, remember?) and Jackson's other exotic pets from the L.A. Times.