With all the discussion surrounding the shocking death of Michael Jackson, people have wondered whatever happened to his beloved chimpanzee Bubbles. It turns out, the chimp is alive and well and monkeying around in a Florida primate sanctuary, PEOPLE has learned.
The 26-year old chimp, who lived with Jackson in the late 1980s, has spent the past four years at the Center For Great Apes, home to forty-two chimpanzees and orangutans.
“He’s a very sweet and nice chimp, he really is,” says sanctuary director Patti Ragan. “I’ve seen him go to the drinking fountain, start to take a sip of water and then, when he hears one of the younger ones coming, he’ll step back and let them have a sip.”
A Jackson Visit?
Bubbles was born at a facility in Texas that breeds primates for medical testing before Jackson adopted him in the ’80s. The chimp arrived at Ragan’s sanctuary – which is not open to the public – in 2005 after the singer’s former animal trainer stopped working with primates. Not long after, a rep for Jackson contacted the facility, saying that Michael wanted to come and visit his former buddy. But the singer never made the trip.
Over the years, Bubbles has grown into a good-sized adult, and now weighs 160 lbs. His facial features have also changed since his days when he often romped around with Jackson in matching Western outfits. “That pink baby face of his has disappeared,” Ragan says. “He still has a lot of fleshy color in his face. But he’s a huge guy now and that probably is going to surprise a lot of people.”
These days, he spends his time hanging out with a group of six other chimps. Among his favorite things to do: eating sweet potatoes, listening to flute-and-guitar music, painting and kicking back with longtime buddy Sam, 40. “The two of them like to climb up to the top of a cupola [located on the sanctuary grounds] and just sit there, staring out over the orange groves, watching the traffic in the distance,” says Ragan. “He loves being up there.”
And the chimpanzee hasn’t been told of his former owner’s recent death. “We haven’t said anything to him yet,” she says, adding that his mood over the past few days has been typically chimp-like: “He’s been his usual self, interacting with friends, eating well, taking cover when it rains.”
Ragan says it’s not yet known if Jackson stipulated that any money from his estate would be used to support Bubbles, who could easily live to the age of 60. To this date, his care has come from solely from public donations. To learn more about Bubbles’s new home, go to www.centerforgreatapes.org.
• PHOTOS: Bubbles and the other furry friends beloved by the King of Pop on PEOPLE Pets