A Missouri woman has been ordered to pay hundreds of thousands to the animal rights group PETA in a lawsuit claiming she faked the death of a Hollywood chimpanzee.
Tonia Haddix, a private animal dealer, must shell out $224,404.24 for crimes including committing perjury and submitting false information to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
An elaborate hoax and years-long battle with PETA
Haddix claimed that Tonka, a movie star chimpanzee known for his roles in the films Buddy and George of the Jungle, had died and that his body had been cremated in a backyard firepit.
She then lied under oath about text messages she had sent saying that Tonka, who she alleged was dead, needed food. Eventually, she told a third party in a recorded phone call that he was still alive but would soon be euthanized, so PETA secured an emergency temporary restraining order to stop the planned euthanasia, which allowed a PETA employee to find Tonka caged in Haddix’s basement. The elderly chimp was relocated by the animal rights organization to an animal sanctuary.
The ordeal started years ago when PETA accused a primate facility where Haddix worked of neglecting the chimps living there, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. In 2020, Haddix reportedly agreed to let four monkeys go to a sanctuary while a decree allowed her to keep three, including Tonka.
But PETA claimed that Haddix did not comply with the mandates of the decree and US Marshals were ordered to remove the remaining chimps from Haddix’s home. Haddix argues that she provided excellent care, giving Tonka a big screen television and iPad to watch YouTube and eventually built an outdoor enclosure for him.
She then lied to authorities that Tonka died from heart failure, with her husband swearing on a court affidavit that he cremated the body, according to the Dispatch.
PETA uncovered the truth after finding a recorded phone call between Haddix and a documentary filmmaker that Tonka was alive and living in her basement.
“Tonia Haddix defied court orders and lied under oath, all so she could keep Tonka locked up alone in a cage, and PETA had to undertake enormous effort to rescue him and the six other chimpanzees in her custody,” says PETA Foundation General Counsel for Animal Law Jared Goodman. “This sanction sends a clear message that PETA won’t back down, and we look forward to putting the award to use helping other animals still caught in the clutches of exploiters like Haddix.”