Revisiting Michael Jackson's many, many pets

This piece in Discovery News take an interesting look back at Michael Jackson's relationship with animals. At times odd, at times the target for criticism, the star's affection for exotic animals was legendary:

Animals played an important role in Michael Jackson's life, abruptly cut short yesterday.


One of Jackson's earliest hits, and a personal favorite song of his, was "Ben," a loving tribute to a pet rat. Jackson was just 14 years old when he recorded the song, becoming the youngest ever performer at the time to top the U.S. charts while still being a member of a group, The Jacksons. "Ben" was written for a 1972 film of the same name.

A young boy befriends Ben the rat in the movie, which was echoed in Jackson's own life since he owned a rat as well. Pet rats were just some of the animals that Jackson cared for, and was associated with, throughout his much too short time on Earth.


Like many young boys, Jackson owned a mini menagerie of dogs and reptiles. But, just as his superstar life spun out of "normalcy," so too did his collection of animals as time went on. His November 1986 line of stuffed toys called "Michael's Pets" paid tribute to just a handful of these animal companions— frogs, rabbits, snakes, ostriches, giraffes, llamas and, of course, Bubbles the chimp.

Jackson rescued Bubbles from a Texas cancer research clinic in 1985 when the chimpanzee was three years old. For several years, the two were inseparable. Bubbles slept in a crib at the corner of Jackson's bedroom, where he alone was allowed to use the singer's private bathroom. Bubbles Moonwalking Bubbles was present during the recording sessions for the Bad album. Bubbles learned how to dance and Moonwalk, and was Jackson's escort for many important award ceremonies and events.

When Jackson's son Prince Michael II was born, Bubbles supposedly became aggressive toward the new young presence in the singer's residences. The chimpanzee was moved to an animal sanctuary. He is now believed to be living a quiet life at a ranch in Sylmar, California.

Michael Jackson also famously loved spiders, with Katharine Hepburn and other celebrity friends at the time expressing awe, and often dismay, at his elaborate spider enclosures. His tarantulas made headlines during a few of the singer's seemingly endless series of legal trials. In 2002, for example, the singer limped into a courtroom on crutches, explaining that he was suffering from a spider bite. "I love tarantulas, but not the little kind," the shoeless Jackson explained.

Jackson's own enormous ranch, Neverland, housed not only rare spiders, but also a video game arcade, amusement park rides and a train. But the real eye-catcher was the private zoo, which once held an elephant, a lion and other exotic animals.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a complaint in January 2006, claiming the animals were being mistreated. This was attributed by others to Jackson's money, legal and paparazzi problems, which forced him to abandon the ranch. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, inspected the animals at the zoo and found no evidence of abuse or neglect.

Jackson rarely visited Neverland Ranch again, instead living between Bahrain, Europe and Las Vegas. More recently, he'd been living in a rented home in Holmby Hills near Los Angeles. The connection between Michael Jackson and animals, as well as related controversies, swirled until the very hour of the singer's death.

Animal activists were planning to stage a boycott of Jackson's 50 planned, sold-out concerts, since sources leaked that the singer planned to make his entrance with exotic animals. An unnamed source was quoted by the London Telegraph as saying, "He hopes to make it the most spectacular gig ever. For the jungle section, he wants to ride out on an African elephant with panthers led on gold chains. Parrots and other birds will fly behind him. If it goes to plan it will look incredible."


Craig Redmond, director of the Captive Animals Protection Society, issued a response that included, "Exploiting animals in this way really is a thing of the past and not something that someone like Michael Jackson should be doing. It would be like a circus act – a practice opposed by most people in the UK – and we are appealing to him and his management not to spoil the show by using animals."

AP file photo of Jackson and Bubbles.