Police in a small northern Arizona city are investigating the deaths of two giraffes from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch, and two others likely will have to find new homes.
Freddie and Tom Hancock of Page acquired the giraffes as part of a plan to build a wildlife preserve on city property they leased in 2008 that also would house exotic birds, reptiles and a camel.
Those plans unraveled as the Hancocks and the city engaged in a legal battle over terms of the lease agreement for the 175-acre property in southeast Page.
City Manager Bo Thomas said the Hancocks never posted a required $100,000 bond or irrevocable letter of credit, while the Hancocks argued the city failed to act in good faith and did not provide them with a bond form.
A judge last week ruled in favor of the city, and Thomas said Wednesday that a timeline for eviction is being prepared.
Meanwhile, the animal rights group PETA is calling on authorities in Page to confiscate and relocate the remaining giraffes, fearing they are mistreated. The group also asked police to determine whether the Hancocks violated animal cruelty laws in relation to the deaths of the other giraffes.
Page police Chief Charlie Dennis said it is unusual to have two giraffes die within a short period — one died Nov. 20 and the other on Jan. 2 — but nothing at the scene was cause for suspicion. Necropsy results are pending.
"There's nothing for us to give justification to remove the giraffes at this time," he said.
The wildlife preserve likely would have provided a boost in tourism for the city of about 7,000 that sits near Lake Powell and is about 110 miles north of Flagstaff. Thomas said residents had mixed feelings about the idea, but the city council wanted to give the Hancocks an opportunity to make the venture work.
"Unfortunately, it isn't going to work," he said.
Freddie Hancock, of the Voices of the Wild Foundation, said its mission was to provide a place where animals that had been abused, confiscated by authorities or voluntarily surrendered could live out the remainder of their lives. But they never moved forward because of issues with city officials who "throw up this wall we could not get over," she said.
She disputed that the animals were mistreated and said they were like her children and would be taken care of whether they're in Page or elsewhere.
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