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Chimpanzee rescued from basement who starred in ‘George of the Jungle’ and ‘Buddy’ – KIRO 7 News Seattle

ST. LOUIS – A chimpanzee who was once in the movies and is believed to have died was taken to a Florida sanctuary after being rescued from a basement in Missouri.

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Tonka, a 38-year-old chimpanzee, was at the center of a legal battle between animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Tonia Haddix, a documentary filmmaker, KSDK reported. PETA previously sued the former Missouri Primate Foundation over the living conditions for tonka and other chimpanzees, and a judge ordered the animals removed from the facility.

Last summer, when sheriff’s deputies and the US Marshals Service removed six chimpanzees from MPF, Haddix, the facility’s caretaker, said Tonka died of congestive heart failure, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Haddix’s husband reportedly gave an affidavit that he cremated Tonka’s body.

PETA activists said they never believed Tonka died and began searching for him. Last week, PETA said in a press release that it had received a recording of a phone conversation in which Haddix confessed Tonka was alive but would be euthanized.

A judge’s emergency order allowed rescuers to retrieve Tonka from the basement where he was being held, KSDK reported. Officials told the station that the chimp was overweight, confined in a tiny cage and not receiving adequate veterinary care.

“I lied to her,” Haddix told the Post-Dispatch. “I did it to protect (Tonka) from PETA’s evil clutches. He’s like a son to me. I love him as much as my own children, maybe more.”

Haddix told the newspaper that Tonka stayed at a friend’s house before joining her in November. She said Tonka has since remained in a cage but has access to a 60-inch TV and an iPad so he can watch YouTube while she and her husband plan to build an outdoor enclosure on their property, the Post reported -Dispatch.

“I chose to keep Tonka where I knew he would die peacefully and with people who loved him,” Haddix told the newspaper. “I did it for this chimp. I made a promise to this chimp that he would never be abandoned, that he would never have to work again, that he could retire and be with the people he loved.”

Tonka was taken to Save the Chimps, a sanctuary in Florida.

“We are very excited to welcome Tonka out of a basement and into the sun,” Save the Chimps CEO Ana Paula Tavares told KSDK. “Our care team looks forward to helping him bond with other chimpanzees so he can enjoy more of life as nature intended.”

Tonka worked in Hollywood, starring alongside Brendan Fraser in “George of the Jungle” and Alan Cumming in “Buddy,” Save the Chimps said in a press release.

Cumming, like PETA, did not believe Tonka had died and had offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could help find the animal, Vanity Fair reported.

A hearing is set to decide whether Haddix will be charged with disobeying court orders, the Post-Dispatch reported. While Haddix could also potentially face perjury charges, she told the paper she wasn’t concerned because she has terminal cancer.

“I have acute myeloid leukemia. They gave me six months ago, three months ago, and I’m not doing treatment,” Haddix told the Post-Dispatch. “So if I die in prison, I die in prison. If I die outside, I die outside. I do not care.”

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