PETA Challenges Neverland Zoo
By Megan Meyer
Animal rights activists sent a letter last week requesting that the owners of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch transform the property into a wildlife sanctuary.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) contacted Jackson’s children and property owner Thomas Barrack Jr. of Colony Capital LLC and Sycamore Valley Ranch Company LLC, criticizing the Jackson family’s proposal to turn the 2800-acre property in the Santa Ynez Valley into a community park and center for animals. PETA suggests the Jacksons consider the Standards of Excellence, established by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries — an organization that establishes criteria and standards for the creation and maintenance of animal sanctuaries — and how the project would go against Jackson’s wishes. According to Ryan Huling, a public spokesman for PETA, organization members are concerned that the proposed park will provide poor living conditions for the confined animals.
“While some zoos aim to protect animals, others do just enough to keep them alive, and the majority are willing to trap animals from the wild to put them out on display,” Huling said. “It is purely for human amusement, and many animals do not bode well being on display with visitors poking and prodding. It is the same as keeping a dog chained up outside.”
Jackson housed several exotic animals at his Neverland property during his life, including his chimpanzee Bubbles. Prior to his death, Jackson relocated Bubbles to a primate sanctuary to provide proper provisions and treatments.
Huling said turning the ranch into an animal refuge is a more accurate reflection of the late pop star’s wishes.
“Taking 2800 acres and turning [it] into zoo instead of sanctuary seems to go against Michael’s wishes,” Huling said. “To honor his memory, we should turn focus from the best interests of visitors and what will bring in tickets and instead donate money to a sanctuary who puts animal welfare as [its] top priority.”
Second-year environmental studies major Kait Carney said PETA’s proposed plan is a viable alternative for the property.
“Living in California, we already have a lot of zoos and very few wild life sanctuaries,” Carney said. “If someone has the land and the money, they should put the ranch to better use than an amusement park to gain profit.”
Second-year political science major Chrissie Jones said the organization’s request is merely an attempt to draw public attention to the group.
“It just seems unnecessary,” Jones said. “The only reason they are doing it is for publicity and not for the good of animals. I feel like it is just a publicity stunt to make people pay attention to their organization.”
The Jackson family and property owners have not established definite plans for the property’s future, and have abstained from commenting on the letter as of press time. Huling said PETA will continue to urge the family to consider their request and offer support for the construction.
“The reports that the children would like to turn the land into a community park and center for animals is worrisome that [as this could not be] in the animals’ best interests,” Huling said. “We hope they take the proposal seriously and don’t just go for a quick buck.