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Movie star chimp is found in Missouri basement after owner faked its death, PETA says

The Charlotte Observer logo The Charlotte Observer 6/8/2022 Mitchell Willetts, The Charlotte Observer
Famous chimpanzee Tonka was found alive in the basement of a Missouri home after its owner faked the primate's death, according to court documents. © Save the Chimps/TNS/TNS Famous chimpanzee Tonka was found alive in the basement of a Missouri home after its owner faked the primate's death, according to court documents.

A famous chimpanzee was found alive in the basement of a Missouri home after its owner faked the primate’s death, in an apparent attempt to retain custody, according to court documents.

Tonka graced the silver screen in such 1990s flicks as “George of the Jungle” and “Buddy,” but the chimp actor has been living not in Hollywood, but Missouri — under the care of an “exotic-animal broker” named Tonia Haddix, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Tonka has also been in the middle of a years-long legal battle among PETA and Haddix, and the now-defunct Missouri Primate Foundation, located in Festus, documents show.

After suits filed against the foundation by PETA over the living conditions of Tonka and other chimps, Haddix was eventually court-ordered to surrender custody of the animals. Haddix had cared for the primates at the facility.

After giving up several of the chimps, Haddix claimed in court that Tonka had died, and his body was cremated in a burn pit, documents say.

However, nearly a year later, PETA obtained a recorded phone call in which Haddix said Tonka was still alive, but she planned to have him euthanized on June 2, PETA said in a release.

PETA soon located Tonka in the basement of a home in Sunrise Beach, in Lake of the Ozarks, PETA told TV station KSDK.

The animal welfare group said Tonka was caged and “could only take a few steps in any direction,” and was also overweight and “not receiving proper veterinary care.”

Tonka has since been transferred to Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida, photos show.

The recorded phone call that tipped off PETA was apparently between Haddix and a documentary film crew, Rolling Stone reported. Details about the documentary are few.

When asked about her plans to euthanize Tonka, Haddix told the magazine that the decision was recommended by a veterinarian, but she “just couldn’t do it” at the time, so the vet scheduled an appointment for June 2.

She says a lack of human contact at the sanctuary in Florida will likely kill Tonka anyway, the outlet reported.

“If anybody knows Tonka, Tonka is not a normal chimpanzee,” she said. “He is a people chimpanzee because he was raised for the movie sets and he could care less about other chimpanzees. He doesn’t act like another chimpanzee, he loves people.”

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©2022 The Charlotte Observer. Visit charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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