Who is Tonka's owner? Death of chimp who starred in 'Buddy' faked to avoid PETA seizure

Who is Tonka's owner? Death of chimp who starred in 'Buddy' faked to avoid PETA seizure
Tonia Haddix (L) and the chimp star, Tonka (R) (Photos by @allancummingreally/Instagram and Tonia Haddix/Facebook)

Tonka, who has starred in films like ‘George of the Jungle' and 'Buddy’ and whose owner swore an oath that the chimpanzee had died of heart problems last year, is now at Missouri Primate Foundation, a Florida primate sanctuary — alive.

Confirming the news on their blog, PETA wrote, “After a long search, PETA has located the missing chimpanzee Tonka. PETA previously rescued eight other chimpanzees from the former Missouri Primate Foundation, and they’re now thriving in spacious sanctuaries. Tonka would be the 20th chimpanzee PETA has rescued from roadside zoos and private owners since 2013.” The revelation that Tonia Haddix, 52, had been secretly hiding the former star chimp in her basement came from a recorded telephone call with a documentary filmmaker on May 22, during which she said her veterinarian planned to evaluate the chimp’s declining health and possibly euthanize him on June 2. 


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The news was celebrated by Tonka’s 'Buddy' co-star Alan Cumming, who posted on Instagram, saying, "Yesterday, I heard that he had stayed outside all day, even when it rained and the other chimps had gone inside and that little detail made me cry again. I am so happy Tinka has finally arrived at a place where she will be able to socialise with other chimps, be able to exercise properly and roam free and receive execllent nutrition and health care."


When did the search start?

Tonia Haddix was the last owner of Tonka and six other chimps – Crystal, Mikayla, Tammy, Connor, Candy and Kerry – who had been housed at the Missouri Primate Foundation, which provided chimps for parties, television ads and movies. The chimps previously belonged to Connie Casey, who transferred ownership of the animals to Haddix in an attempt to end a lawsuit PETA filed against her in 2016 that claimed the chimps weren’t receiving proper care.

The search for Tonka began last year when PETA successfully sued the Missouri Primate Foundation over its dismal housing conditions for several chimpanzees, including Tonka. When the animal rights organization moved to rescue Tonka and six other primates from the facility in July 2021, his owner Tonia Haddix claimed that Tonka had died.

Haddix went so far as to submit court documents describing how Tonka’s body had been cremated in a fire pit, as per a Rolling Stone report. However, news about the body’s disposal revealed that Haddix had said the chimp was still alive which furthered PETA’s suspicions. By January 2022, a judge ruled that Haddix’s account was not credible. A few months later, PETA and Cumming pooled together a $20,000 reward for anyone who had information about the star’s whereabouts.

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