Michael Jackson’s Pet – Bubbles the Chimpanzee (September 2017 Update)

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Bubbles was born in 1983 at a medical lab in Texas and sold to Jackson when he was eight months old, who enlisted Bob Dunn to help train him. Bubbles was trained to perform a not very convincing Jackson backslide and used to make crowds go wild when he covered his ears whenever the words “heavy metal” were mentioned. By 1988, the year Jackson moved into his new Sycamore Valley ranch, Bubbles was gone and was housed with celebrity ape trainer Bob Dunn. Jackson requested to see Bubbles from time to time, but when Jackson’s three children arrived on the scene, this brought an end to their interactions as Bubbles was deemed too dangerous to be around young children. Dunn cared for Bubbles for several years until he transferred him to the Centre for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida under the care of Patti Regan. Michael Jackson always maintained ownership of Bubbles, but he never contributed to the cost of care for the chimp throughout his life. The Michael Jackson estate now contributes towards the nearly £17,000 ($22,000) a year required for the cost of care. The Centre for Great Apes is home to around 50 animals, with each one costing about the same amount to house each year.

Pattie Regan had to teach him to become “normal”, how to share food, greet and groom his fellow primates and how to make up with his room-mates after a disagreement. As of the Summer of 2017, Bubbles is 34 years of age, greying and living out the rest of his life at the rescue centre. Bubbles is the dominant chimp in his group weighing nearly 80 kg. He lives in a group of seven chimps, four females (a number of whom he “likes”), and three males. Bubbles has never fathered children as the sanctuary cannot afford to care for babies. All chimps have had vasectomies conducted to keep cost low long term. Following Jackson’s death in 2009, Patti Ragan turned down a request to fly Bubbles to Los Angeles, for the Memorial service. She has never shown pictures of Michael to Bubbles to avoid upsetting him because he viewed Jackson as a “mother figure”.  La Toya Jackson has been the only member of the Jackson family to visit Bubbles since the death of Michael. She appeared at the sanctuary as part of a TV documentary, during which she broke down in tears in front of a disinterested Bubbles. Despite years in the spotlight, he has adapted well to his change of lifestyle, although he does hate having his photo taken.

In July of 2017, the Great Ape Centre in collaboration with gallery owner Adam Brand put together an exhibition of artwork by Bubbles to help raise funds for the rescue centre. Much of the artwork sold for thousands of dollars.

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