Today, in “Stories that just get more depressing the more you learn about them, so don’t say we didn’t warn you” news: Tonka, a performing chimp that’s appeared in a number of Hollywood productions, including the 1997 Alan Cumming comedy Buddy, has now been found, after his owner allegedly made false reports of his death and subsequent cremation to throw authorities off their tracks.
You may remember the saga of Tonka from a few weeks back, when Cumming offered up a reward—matching one being offered by PETA—for information on the whereabouts of the chimp, who he apparently remembered fondly from the film. (The total reward added up to $20,000.) And if the appearance of that four-letter animal rights org in this story suggests the point where things might get weird, well: Good instincts, friend.
As it turns out, Tonka was not dead, as reported by Tonia Haddix, his owner, who apparently reported the chimpanzee’s death in an effort to keep both PETA and the courts off her back re: her ongoing ape ownership. Here’s Rolling Stone describing his living arrangements over the last year, revealed when authorities raided Haddix’s home and found that rumors of Tonka’s chimp death had been greatly exaggerated:
[Tonka was] secretly hidden away for the past year in Haddix’s Clever, Missouri home where he had a 60-inch TV, an interactive iPad-like touch device, and had celebrated St. Patrick’s Day among a few of Haddix’s close friends.
You know what they say: You’ve never really experienced St. Paddy’s until you’ve done it with a tablet-equipped chimpanzee.
PETA’s been after Haddix for a while, after she took over the care of some of the chimps in the custody of the now-shuttered Missouri Primate Foundation. (Cumming also appears to have been involved in that earlier campaign.) The organization eventually got the courts to declare that all of the chimps in her care should be sent to the Center for Great Apes sanctuary in Wauchula, Florida.
But Haddix said that she worried that Tonka—who she says had had a stroke—wouldn’t survive the move, and wouldn’t be properly socialized if he did. “If anybody knows Tonka, Tonka is not a normal chimpanzee,” Haddix told Rolling Stone. “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.”
So instead, she used the stroke as a pretext to fake the animal’s death, keeping him in her house for the next year. When asked about whether she was worried about having lied under oath about the animal’s whereabouts, Haddix reportedly laughed. “Honey, I’ve been held in contempt of court three times,” she says. “I have paid $50 a day [in fines]. I’ve been through the mill. I’m sure that there’ll be some jail time in this. 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.”
A spokesperson for PETA, understandably, offered a different viewpoint. Regarding Tonka’s condition, attorney Jared Goodman said, “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.”
Tonka is reportedly still in poor health; PETA has said that it intends to have independent veterinarians diagnose him and give him what help they can. For Haddix’s part, she was adamant: “If there’s anything that happened to that kid, I feel sorry for them, because they will be sued from here to yonder.” PETA alleges that Haddix had been considering euthanizing Tonka on the recommendation of the animal’s vet, due to the development of congestive heart failure; Haddix denies she had any such plans.
See? Huge bummer by “faked chimp death news story” standards. We warned you.