THE mystery surrounding the missing chimpanzee Tonka, who starred in George of the Jungle, has finally been solved.
Tonka, who featured in the 1997 movie with Alan Cumming was said to have died, according to court records.
The chimp suffered a stroke and died from heart failure, according to his owner Tonia Haddix, who submitted a declaration and court documents to a judge in Missouri, saying Tonka’s body had been burned in a pit.
In a bizarre twist, Tonka was found alive earlier this week, having been secretly hidden away for the past year in Haddix’s Sunrise Beach, Missouri, home.
According to reports, 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, according to Haddix.
Following an emergency court order obtained by PETA, authorities searched her home Thursday.
PETA and Haddix have been locked in a legal battle since 2018 and reports say faking Tonka’s death was a “last-ditch effort” by Haddix to keep her beloved chimp after a judge ordered her to turn over Tonka and six other chimpanzees to the Center for Great Apes sanctuary in Wauchula, Florida.
The organization says that when Tonka was found, he was being kept in a small cage nailed to the floor in Haddix’s basement.
Tonka was said to be overweight, wasn’t allowed outside and had no companionship with other chimpanzees – which is crucial for chimps, according to the animal rights group.
Haddix is said to have been finally busted by a recording of a phone call, which PETA had received, where the animal breeder is said to have “confessed that [Tonka] was still alive but would be euthanized on June 2.”
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Haddix admitted to Rolling Stone that she had lied about Tonka’s death, saying he had been with her the entire time.
“Oh absolutely, 100 percent,” she said. “In my house, yes.”
She denied though that she had any immediate plans to euthanize Tonka, explaining that because of his poor health, her vet was simply planning on doing a checkup that day, although the medic had recommended that at some point Tonka would need to be put down.
When questioned that she potentially could be found in contempt of court for lying under oath, laughing, Haddix replied: “Honey, I’ve been held in contempt of court three times.
“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.”
PETA says there is a documentary being made about Haddix and the long-running legal battle, with a camera crew en route to capture the latest twist in the story.
The animal rights group first sued Tonka’s original owner Connie Casey, who ran the now-disbanded Missouri Primate Foundation in Festus, Missouri, in 2016.
According to PETA, at one point the facility housed at least a dozen chimpanzees and there were numerous violations of the Endangered Species Act, including cockroach-infested facilities, “keeping chimpanzees in isolation [and] confining them to cramped, barren enclosures.”
Haddix took over the care of seven chimps, including Tonka, to help Casey out.
But PETA claimed the facility still wasn’t adequate for the animals and the group added Haddix to the suit.
After various legal tussles, including how many chimps Haddix could have in her care, they were eventually ordered to be sent to the sanctuary.
Haddix, though, said she couldn’t bear to be apart from Tonka, saying she had made him a promise that he’d “never ever have to do anything that he doesn’t want to do ever, ever again.”
After Tonka’s alleged stroke earlier that year, Haddix says she decided to fake his death.
PETA though had doubted Haddix’s story from the start, saying she had given conflicting accounts of how his body had been disposed of.
Last August, a whistleblower claimed Haddix had admitted he was still alive.
PETA issued several public appeals for information and the group teamed up with Cumming to offer a $20,000 reward for anyone who could help them locate Tonka, which led to his discovery.
“After months of searching, Tonka has finally been found and help is on the way,” PETA’s attorney Jared Goodman said in a statement. “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.”
PETA added it was bringing in an “independent veterinarian to evaluate whether Tonka is healthy enough to travel to an accredited sanctuary.”
Haddix though thinks Tonka won’t survive being transported to a sanctuary, and even if he did, she says that a lack of human contact at the rescue facilities would kill him.
“Tonka just cannot tolerate that,” she said. “If anybody knows Tonka, Tonka is not a normal chimpanzee. 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.”
Haddix said she was unsure of who had informed PETA that she was harboring Tonka.
In a 10-page transcript of the recorded phone-call that was obtained by PETA and seen by Rolling Stone, Haddix was on the phone with someone who appeared to be from the documentary crew, discussing potential interviews with family members and updates about Tonka’s health condition, including seemingly to confirm plans to euthanize Tonka.
“I had [the vet] out the other day on Mr. T and he’s in congestive heart failure, again, really bad,” Haddix is quoted. “And [the vet] wanted me to put him down the other day, but I just couldn’t do it. So he made an appointment for the 2nd of [June].”
“Yeah,” the other person responds. “Maybe we could interview your son and be around then at the same time. Let me run it by everybody, but that would work.”
“Because that’s the end of the legacy,” Haddix is quoted.
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Haddix has also claimed if PETA took Tonka away from her, he’ll die.
“I won’t make this and that’s okay because if they want that on them, to each their own,” she added. “At this point, I don’t even really care, except for the fact that I want Tonka to be okay. That’s all I care about. And they are going to kill him, and I have already warned all the federal marshals. If there’s anything that happened to that kid, I feel sorry for them, because they will be sued from here to yonder.”
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