Friday, August 10, 2012

Does Michael Jackson's chimp Bubbles miss Neverland?

Bubbles is famous as Michael Jackson’s pet chimpanzee. He was a member of Michael’s weird household, appearing with the singer and even thrilling Japanese audiences while on a promotional tour of that country. Today, he could be an unofficial but acclaimed ambassador for former pets, a reminder of the difficulties of private ownership of chimpanzees.
It’s easy for most people to own a chimpanzee, and even to keep that chimp in their home. Currently, there are 61 privately-owned chimpanzees who are either bred for public ownership or currently living in private residences, according to ChimpCare. Legislation in Congress that would prohibit the use of chimps as pets has been going nowhere, although some elected officials in some states and counties are trying to enact or strengthen local regulations. Predictably, owners of exotic animals are whining that government is overreaching, trying to restrict their “rights” to do anything they want with animals. But Bubbles' life shows why exotic pet owners are wrong.
Michael could buy just about anything he wanted, at least until his world turned upside down and people started suing him. He could do just about anything he wanted. And yet, with all that money and all that power, he decided to give up the chimpanzee who evidently meant a lot to him. Reportedly, Michael felt so connected to Bubbles that he believed the chimp would warn him about who was after his money. According to News24, “A former housekeeper told The Sun newspaper: ‘Bubbles often would be a gauge for Michael to decide who should stay and go.’”
The chimpanzee who was loved by millions was born in 1983 at a biomedical research facility in Texas that breeds primates for medical testing. By the time he was five years old, he was on tour with Jackson in Japan. Soon after, Bubbles disappeared from Michael’s world.
Even the King of Pop couldn’t manage living with Bubbles as the chimp grew up. Chimps are only manageable as pets until they are 7 or 8 years old. Even if you have strong chains and stronger cages, like Michael could have set up with a snap of his finger, you cannot ensure the safety of people around them. Emotionally healthy chimpanzees are proud, and generally independent-minded. They are much like us, after all. But much stronger. And they don't shy away from showing their displeasure when their will is thwarted.

(Jane Goodall says the Bubbles was beaten when he was with Michael.)
Bubbles spent a couple of years living at a California training facility run by Bob Dunn, one of Hollywood’s most famous ape trainers. When Dunn shut down his business, Bubbles found a new and permanent home with the Center for Great Apes, in Wauchula, Florida. He has lived there since 2005 -- without a provision in MJ's will, and with no financial support from the family. (I know the Center for Great Apes, and I hope you can make a small donation to help with care for Bubbles and the other former show biz chimps and orangutans.)
Did Michael cold-heartedly “abandon” Bubbles? I am glad that he “gave him up” so the chimp could have a better life. I would argue that when Michael got Bubbles out of a residential situation, (which Neverland was, after all, even if it was a BIG residence) he was finally acting responsibly. Since chimpanzees become increasingly difficult to manage as they approach adulthood, owners must, of necessity, keep their chimp socially isolated because managing an entire family of chimpanzees is a task only for a zoo or a sanctuary with trained caregivers and suitable living conditions. The years of social isolation experienced by pet chimpanzees can result in an emotionally warped individual, who often ends up in bad physical shape as well.
Bubbles is now 30 years old, with a life expectancy of 40 to 45 years, or even longer. His life in a sanctuary is as rich as can be expected for a great ape in captivity. It is better, by far, than the lives of chimps who are restrained by chains and kept isolated in unsuitable homes across America.
I would never suggest that Michael Jackson’s lifestyle is an example for people to follow. But I wish young people who dream of following Jackson’s example of chimpanzee ownership would look, instead, to the lesson Michael learned. (One Direction's Louis Tomlinson, I'm talking to you.) Chimpanzees, even moonwalking ones, are not pets. If you truly love chimpanzees, respect them enough to give them a life where they can love and play and grow old with their own species. They won’t miss life on tour, or life in the garage, or even a life of luxury with famous people in Neverland. Sure, chimpanzees grow attached to their human companions, and will miss those people a lot, especially when they are first separated. But, truly, once they discover their true selves, they prefer life as a chimp. Just ask Bubbles.

The Jackson family contributes NOTHING to pay for the care of this wonderful chimpanzee. If you care about Bubbles and want to honor Michael Jackson, I urge you to make a donation, even if it is a very small one, to Center for Great Apes for their lifetime care of this wonderful chimp. Help support Bubbles


  1. Thank you for your unwavering advocacy for our great apes. Sandra

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  3. How is it legal for private individuals to own pet orangutans given how endangered they are? I mean you never hear about people owni ng pet gorillas or bonobos?Or do you?

  4. To answer one of the questions posed by the second poster - Patrick and Brandi are in the Orangutan SSP studbook and are living in Connecticut at LionShare Farm in Greenwich.