Movie chimpanzee whose owners said dead is alive, living in Florida | Law and order

ST. LOUIS — Tonka, whose caretakers swore under oath that the chimpanzee died of heart problems last year, is now in a Florida primate sanctuary — alive.

Last weekend, authorities removed the former movie theater chimpanzee from a cage in the basement of his caretaker’s home in Sunrise Beach, Missouri, near Lake of the Ozarks.

The revelation that Tonia Haddix, 52, was secretly hiding Tonka in her basement came from a May 22 phone call with a documentary filmmaker, during which she said her vet planned to assess the chimpanzee’s declining health and possibly euthanize her. it.

An audio recording of Tonia Haddix’s May 22 phone call with someone she claims is a documentary filmmaker. Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which provided the recording, obscured the interviewer’s voice to protect her identity.

Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, obtained a recording of the call and then obtained an emergency court order to stop any euthanasia of Tonka and remove the chimpanzee from Haddix’s home.

“It’s a very happy day for us and for Tonka,” said Jared Goodman, a PETA attorney. “We never really gave up on finding him because we never bought into the lies about his death. Nothing ever added up. And so we knew he was probably out there somewhere.”

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Tonka rose to fame by appearing with actor Alan Cumming in the 1997 film “Buddy”.

The legal dispute between PETA and Haddix over Tonka and other chimps has raged in federal court for years. Haddix acknowledged in an interview with the Post-Dispatch this week that she and her husband faked Tonka’s death and lied in court to avoid turning him over to PETA last summer.

“It’s been almost a year since he was first supposed to be rescued and we are so lucky that we were still able to rescue him and were able to find out this information before Haddix apparently planned to kill him,” Goodman said.

Goodman said PETA was not behind the call, but did not disclose how the group obtained the audio recording.

The animal welfare group has long claimed that Tonka and other chimpanzees previously at the defunct Missouri Primate Foundation facility near Festus were poorly cared for and housed — claims Haddix denies.

Haddix signed a 2020 consent decree agreeing to send four chimpanzees to the Center for Great Apes sanctuary in Wauchula, Florida. She was supposed to keep three, including Tonka, but did not meet the order’s requirements to house her three chimpanzees, PETA said.

The case began in 2016, when PETA alleged that the chimps were being held in inappropriate conditions at the Missouri Primate Foundation’s facilities and that their treatment violated the Federal Endangered Species Act. Haddix said he became involved in the care of the chimpanzees and in the process, when the facility’s founder, Connie Braun Casey, became ill and unable to care for them.

The foundation has cared for rescued chimpanzees and retired zoo animals. Casey and her then-husband also ran Chimparty, which provided chimps for parties, commercials, and other activities.

Last summer, when Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputies and the US Marshals Service oversaw the removal of six chimpanzees from the facility, Haddix claimed that Tonka had died of congestive heart failure. Her husband filed a sworn affidavit in court saying he cremated her body.

But PETA activists never believed that Tonka was dead. In February, they offered up to $10,000 for information leading to Tonka’s location or confirmation of his death. A federal judge declined to arrest Haddix in contempt of court for failing to properly document the chimpanzee’s death, but gave PETA the opportunity to offer additional evidence.

“I lied to them,” Haddix said on Tuesday. “I did this to protect (Tonka) from PETA’s evil grasp. He’s like a son to me. I love him as much as my own children, maybe more.”

Haddix told the Post-Dispatch that Tonka was with a friend of hers in Missouri until November, when the chimp came to live with her.

The chimpanzee Tonka was removed on June 5, 2022 from a cage in the basement of Tonia Haddix’s home from Sunrise Beach, Missouri.


Since November, she said, Tonka has been in a cage in her finished basement — equipped with a 60-inch television and an iPad so he can watch YouTube — until she and her husband can build an outdoor enclosure in the woods in your property.

Several times, Haddix has referred to Tonka as his “son”, “son”, or “humanzee”, saying that “he is half human, half chimpanzee because of his upbringing”.

“I chose to keep Tonka where I know he would die in peace and with people who loved him,” she said. “I did it for that chimpanzee. I made that chimpanzee a promise that he would never be abandoned, he would never have to work again, that he could retire and be close to the people he loved.”

She said her vet was planning a checkup on Thursday and that she would only consider euthanasia if he recommended it.

Goodman said that, based on PETA’s initial assessment of Tonka, Haddix’s claim that he was close to death is “greatly exaggerated”. Goodman also disputes Haddix’s claim that Tonka is over 38, saying the chimpanzee is over 30.

“There is no indication that he is nearing the end of his life,” Goodman said.

Next week, US District Judge Catherine Perry will hear evidence about Tonka’s well-being and decide whether to hold Haddix in contempt for defying court orders.

It was unclear whether Haddix could also face perjury charges. But she says she’s not too worried about legal issues, because she says she has terminal cancer.

“I don’t have much time for this world,” she said. “I have acute myeloid leukemia. I was given six months, three months ago, and I’m not on treatment. So if I die in jail, I die in jail. If I die out, I die out. Watch out.”

After a long struggle, six chimpanzees removed from the Festus area facility under tight security

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