The whereabouts of the chimpanzee Tonka, who starred in Buddy, and the 1997 comedy movie George of the Jungle, has been unknown for quite some time after his owner Tonia Haddix announced he had passed away last year, according to previous reports by The Rolling Stone. However, it turns out the chimp actually is alive and has been secretly hidden in Haddix’s home in Missouri all this time.
In May 2021, Haddix claimed that the celebrity chimp had passed away after a stroke and was subsequently cremated. But, in actual fact, Tonka never died and was reportedly kept in Haddix’s basement, surrounded by a “60-inch TV, an interactive iPad-like touch device”, and would celebrate with Haddix’s guests on St Patrick’s day. The chimpanzee was recovered after the animal rights group Peta received an emergency court order and Haddix’s home was searched.
Haddix has been in an ongoing lawsuit with PETA regarding her involvement with the Center for Great Apes sanctuary in Florida. She was ordered to give up Tonka and six other chimps, and claimed that her actions of faking the animal star’s death were to keep him in her care.
PETA Foundation General Counsel for Animal Law Jared Goodman issued the following statement regarding Tonka via the organisation’s website: “After months of searching, Tonka has finally been found, and help is on the way. 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.”
Alan Cumming, who starred opposite Tonka in Buddy, also responded to the news on the chimp’s rescue (via Vulture) after being heavily involved with the animal rights group in the search for the chimp. “I feel so emotional about this great news,” he says. “When I met Tonka while filming the movie Buddy, I made a true friend, and I was honoured that he thought of me as a fellow chimp.”
“I’m dancing a jig that PETA has rescued Tonka from the woman who locked him away alone in a basement and lied about it,” Cumming continued. “The thought of Tonka being able to wander free and happy at Save the Chimps’ lush, spacious sanctuary for the rest of his life has me singing a happy song.”