A new Ross Kemp documentary exposes the horrors that animals faced while kept at Michael Jackson’s Neverland zoo, as well as what happened to many of them after they left the singer’s famous ranch. Watch a clip here:
While Bubbles the chimp was the pop-star's most well-known pet – having often made public appearances with him and starred in music videos and movies – he was actually just one of many animals kept by Jackson.
In a new documentary, Searching For Michael Jackson’s Zoo With Ross Kemp, we hear how animals were ‘everywhere’ at Neverland, with a menagerie of at least 50 species including six giraffes, snakes and lizards, eight alligators, 20 exotic bird, three elephants, seven apes and monkeys and four tigers.
But while Jackson always insisted that he was an animal lover, not everyone is convinced that the animals experienced the best possible treatment at his private zoo.
The new doc sees Kemp attempt to track down any of the animals still alive, while also finding out more about how they were cared for under Jackson’s ownership.
Kemp explains how those closest to Jackson ‘may not have recognised what was wrong with the treatment of the Neverland animals’, but that animal rights campaigners ‘have long been concerned.
Carol Davis, former director of Companion Animal Protection Society, tells the presenter: “Animals were incarcerated there, and so Neverland seems like a fairytale kind of a place, but it was no fairytale for the animals living there. No fairytale at all.”
When asked if she felt Jackson was a conservationist and a lover of animals, as he asserted, Davis said: “No. But I want to add that it’s possible to have two ideas in one’s head at the same time. And that is that one can be a real fan of Michael Jackson’s fantastic music, and also hold in one’s head that Michael Jackson hated animals.”
“[…] You could see where they had rubbed themselves up against the cages. You could see that there was no way out. You could see that it was dark, that it was dreary, that it was bleak.”
Among Jackson’s exotic pets were two elephants called Ali and Baba, who were purchased as infants from South Africa.
Marcelle Meredith, Executive Director of the NSPCA - South Africa’s equivalent of the RSPCA – says they originally came from the Kruger Park, but later ended up with Ricardo Ghiazza, a wild animal trafficker and drug dealer who became known as one of the biggest elephant traders in the country.
While they were in Ghiazza’s ‘hellhole’, Meredith says they would have been beaten with a bull hook - a device used to control elephants - and deprived of water and food, all in order to ‘train them down’ to send them to the States.
“He was a despicable person because of what he did to animals,” she says.
“He was ruthless.”
Meredith, who keeps records of the country’s elephants sold to foreign zoos, then confirms to Kemp what Ghiazza’s next move had been, explaining: "He sold two elephants – Ali and Baba – to Michael Jackson in America."
Kemp points out that Jackson’s hit song ‘Earth Song’ was released just two years after the purchase, and how the video features dead elephants, with their tusks removed, that are brought back to life by the singer.
Jackson never returned to Neverland after his 2005 child sex abuse trial, and decided to sell up – including his animals.
Elsewhere in the documentary, we hear what happened to the star’s giraffes – which were ‘often in danger’ due to Jackson’s inexperience, according to Kemp.
Two giraffes almost burnt to death in a barn fire, while one called Jabaar died after a barn door that had been left open slammed on to his neck in the wind. Archives reveal that, just years before, law enforcement officers visited Neverland and found that Jabaar had been kept in a pen that was far too small.
The giraffe’s four offspring didn’t fare much better, having been sold off to wild animal owners Tommy and Freddie Hancock. Within around two years, two of the giraffes died, with PETA saying the Hancocks fed them incorrectly while exposing them to the cold – an idea echoed by former cop Ben Jennett, who had been involved in dealing with the pair.
“It was cold out there though, and there was no heaters or anything that I could see for those giraffes out there,” he tells Kemp.
“And there was no real shelter for them in their barn, or whatever that they had up there. And the wind just whipped through and froze them.”
At one point, an archive clip shows Jackson standing with his 'sweet' pet llama Louie, saying to the camera that he once owned another, but that it had died.
"I used to have another llama," he says.
"He was a boy llama, he was snow white. And unfortunately my dogs attacked and he died."
We also hear from Mark Biancaniello, who was a trainer at the 2,700-acre ranch but was forced to retire after sustaining 'near-fatal injuries' in a car crash while two tigers were in the vehicle with him.
He speaks lovingly of a bear called Baloo, his favourite animal at Neverland, who he bottle-fed and allowed to sleep in his bed.
"He acted like a dog," the former animal trainer says, "It was just fantastic."
Remembering his bond with the bear, Biancaniello continues: "He ended up being about 650lbs, and almost 7ft tall.
"And he used to drive around in the golf cart with me – we'd go by the theatre, I’d go get him an ice cream cone.
"We rode the bumper cars together. I mean, picture this: a big bumper car room, with fog machines going, Michael Jackson’s music blasting, and Baloo is sitting here right next to me in the bumper car.
"He loved his ice cream. I was driving the golf cart and Baloo’s sitting right there next to me with his arm around my shoulder, and you could see him licking the ice cream.
"I mean, that in itself, how many places you go and see that on any kind of basis?
Kemp calmly replies: “I’ve never seen that.”
Watch Searching For Michael Jackson’s Zoo With Ross Kemp on ITV at 9pm on Wednesday 27 April.
Featured Image Credit: Alamy/ITV
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