Ross Kemp uncovers animal abuse at Neverland in 'Searching for Michael Jackson's Zoo'
A Ross Kemp documentary about the exotic animals kept by late singer Michael Jackson has uncovered their mistreatment, including upsetting details about his pet chimp Bubbles' life.
Searching for Michael Jackson's Zoo with Ross Kemp sees the former EastEnder and documentary maker go on a journey across the US to trace the animals kept at the Neverland ranch who were sold off after he moved.
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The ITV documentary reveals elephants were kept in shackles and beaten with a bullhook, giraffes were sold on to irresponsible owners who made them seriously ill through poor care, and animals were frequently kept in cages that distressed them after being taken from their families in traumatic conditions.
Kemp speaks to renowned conservationist and chimp expert Dr Jane Goodall about her visit to Neverland, where she gives chilling details of what she observed.
Talking about Jackson's pet chimp Bubbles, who he dressed up in clothes and took out in public with him, she says: "I certainly reprimanded him about Bubbles, I reprimanded him about chimps shouldn't be taken from their mothers, they shouldn't be used in entertainment.
"He looked at me and he said, 'you wouldn't approve of a chimp being hit over the head would you?'."
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Goodall continues: "Bubbles was hit when he did something wrong. He said once he had been hit across the room. I said, 'Michael did you think that was alright?' He said, 'No, not really.'"
She adds that "the whole situation was horrendous" and tells of the "terrible" conditions which included a small bear crying in a cage after being taken from its mother.
Goodall says she showed Jackson footage of chimps kept in circuses and labs in the hope of prompting him to donate money to helping rescue them from captivity, but was shocked by his reaction.
She says: "He had this smile on his face and I said how can you be smiling at this little chimp in a lab cage that's 22 inches by 22 inches?"
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The documentary's producer Johnny McDevitt spoke to The Telegraph about making the show and what they had discovered.
Jackson had been accused of abusing children during his life and in further allegations that emerged after his death, but when talking about his supposed love of animals had compared animal cruelty to hurting children.
McDevitt said: "For a music star who portrayed himself as a child in a man’s body and with the things he said about animals: ‘How could anyone ever hurt an animal? It would be like hurting a small child…’
"Did he know [about the mistreatment of the animals]? Could he be excused? It didn’t take long for me to see that as a fallacy."
He added: "His employees said he did due diligence on his animals, that he had time to research the ancillary parts of his life. He knew who he was buying Ali and Baba from. Could it be plausible that this billionaire of a star with a huge staff could be so busy that he overlooked the details of animal husbandry?"
Searching for Michael Jackson's Zoo with Ross Kemp airs tonight (Wednesday) at 9pm on ITV.
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