Michael Jackson’s strange connection to Tiger King Joe Exotic: ‘They were his’

Michael Jackson was known for his outlandish taste and interest in exotic animals, famously owning and travelling with Bubbles, his chimpanzee, for a period of time in the 1980s. The King of Pop also had his own private zoo at the Neverland ranch, the inhabitants of which included tigers, snakes and primate. Now, it appears a link between Jackson and another wild animal enthusiast, Joe Maldonado-Passage, AKA Joe Exotic, might have been uncovered.

The former owner of Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Park, who was convicted of attempting to hire someone to murder his rival Carole Baskin and a string of violations regarding the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act, saw his zoo suffer a suspected arson attack which killed several alligators back in 2015.

The fire killed seven alligators and one crocodile, as well as burning the on-site recording studio used by the former cop and pet store owner-turned-zookeeper to film his own YouTube TV series.

In a new interview with David Spade for Lights Out, Exotic’s former lover John Finlay, who featured heavily in the Netflix series Tiger King, opened up about the alligators which perished, saying some had once been owned by the late Michael Jackson.

“My favourite animals were the alligators and crocodiles,” he said. “A previous manager had gotten Michael Jackson’s alligators from Neverland ranch.”



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“We’d got some other ones from friends and stuff. They were the ones I really took care of most of the time,” he added.

On March 28, 2015, Exotic published a YouTube video on JoeExoticTV in which he explained what had happened.

“As most of you know, an arsonist hit our facility a day before yesterday in the sometime wee hours and set fire to not only my recording studio, but the studio that houses our alligators, which caused them all to burn up and perish, boiling alive in a towering inferno of nothing but flames and fire,” he said.

The fire was strongly suspected to be the result of arson but no one was ever charged.

But it turns out the ill-fated alligators actually used to belong to the King of Pop, according to Exotic.

In an article published by Fox’s KXII that year, he was quoted calling the animals “Michael Jackson’s alligators”.

“The building can be replaced, the equipment can be replaced but Michael Jackson’s alligators cannot be replaced,” he told the publication.

At the time, the outlet reported the incident cost approximately $250,000 to rectify, a serious issue for the zoo owner who had already filed for bankruptcy.


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Exotic also told the LA Times the alligators had been taken from Neverland after it closed.

Meanwhile, New York Magazine said in 2019 that baby alligators which were killed in the fire were the offspring of one which had lived with Jackson at Neverland. 

In a statement obtained by People earlier this week, Jackson’s estate said: “Michael Jackson’s estate cannot confirm if said alligators had belonged to the late singer.”

Tiger King is a seven-part Netflix original documentary series which follows the almost unbelievable story of Exotic’s entanglement in a murder-for-hire plot to kill rival wildlife sanctuary owner Baskin.

The programme explores Exotic’s background, from his relationships with his two younger ‘husbands’ and the death of his brother which inspired him to start the G.W. Zoo many years ago.

It focuses on the tense relationship between the outlandish Exotic and Big Cat Rescue boss Baskin over several years as the pair are locked in lawsuits and a grim feud fuelled by threats.

Earlier this year, Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in prison for two counts of murder-for-hire, eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act.

Tiger King is available to stream now on Netflix.

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