Tonka the chimpanzee, the acting ape who starred alongside Alan Cumming in Buddy, was reported deceased last year, but it turns out his owner faked his death.
As PETA confirmed in a press release, Tonka was discovered hidden at his owner Tonia Haddix’s Missouri home this past week. She previously filed court documents that claimed the chimp suffered a stroke and subsequently died from heart failure, and said he was cremated in a fire pit. However, last week Tonka was found alive in a small cage located in Haddix’s basement when authorities searched her home.
Tonka was reportedly in the cage with a 60-inch TV and a touch-screen tablet, and was not allowed to leave his confinement. He was overweight and had not been able to socialize with other chimpanzees. Haddix stirred PETA’s concerns when she admitted in a recording of a phone call that Tonka was still alive, although she planned to euthanize him.
As Rolling Stone reported, Haddix confessed that she faked Tonka’s death and he’s been in her home over the past year. She denied there are plans to euthanize the ape, although his poor health meant a veterinarian had recommended Tonka be put down in the future. She also laughed off the idea that she lied under oath, and said she’s been held in contempt of court at least three times already.
“I’m sure that there’ll be some jail time in this,” she said. “Do I care? No, I don’t care. It’s because it’s about that kid. As long as that kid is safe, I don’t care about nothing out there.”
Tonka appeared opposite Cumming in the ’97 family comedy Buddy, as well as George of the Jungle that same year. The actor has worked with PETA in the search for Tonka, and offered a $20,000 reward for anyone who could help the organization discover his whereabouts.
Haddix has been the target of an ongoing lawsuit with PETA for years. The organization previously filed a suit against Tonka’s first owner, Connie Casey, who later entrusted Haddix to take care of the chimp and six others. PETA added her to the lawsuit because her facility, which once housed around 12 chimpanzees, also violated the Endangered Species Act. She was ordered to turn over Tonka and the other chimps to the Center for Great Apes sanctuary, which is in Wauchula, Florida, and then faked his death.
“After months of searching, Tonka has finally been found and help is on the way,” said PETA attorney Jared Goodman. “He has endured nearly a year of isolation and likely needs urgent care, but if all goes well, PETA will soon arrange for him to be moved to a lush sanctuary where he’ll have a chance for a real life at last.”
Haddix said she does not believe Tonka will survive the transportation to Florida, and that she hopes to see the person who informed PETA to get “desecrated” on social media.