VIDEO: Tonka’s Happy Ending Gets the Hollywood Treatment from Alan Cumming

The actor helped PETA find the chimpanzee after his Missouri-based owner faked his death

click to enlarge Alan Cumming holding a picture of his erstwhile co-star, Tonka.
Alan Cumming holding a picture of his erstwhile co-star, Tonka.

The story of Tonka the Chimp begins in Hollywood in the 1990s and ends happily at a wildlife sanctuary in Florida. However, between California and the Sunshine State, the chimp's journey includes a bizarre chapter that unfolded in Festus, Missouri. There his owner went to great lengths to hide the animal from authorities, going so far as to fake his death.

If you haven't stayed abreast of the years-long saga playing out an hour south of St. Louis, fear not. None other than Emmy Award and Golden Globe-nominated actor Alan Cumming will fill you in in less than two minutes.

The actor narrates a PSA for PETA, which recounts the animal-rights nonprofit's battle to free Tonka from the cramped basement cage where the "fugitive" chimp was confined.


Cumming knew Tonka from when the two appeared in the 1997 family comedy film Buddy.

Since then, Cumming went on to act in everything from Eyes Wide Shut to the Spy Kids franchise, winning three Emmy nominations for his work on The Good Wife along the way.

Tonka was less fortunate. Once he retired from acting, the chimp wound up living in the care of the now-defunct Missouri Primate Foundation. PETA sued over conditions there, saying the breeding compound kept chimps confined in squalid circumstances before funneling them into show business and the exotic-pet trade.

The foundation later turned over its chimps to a woman named Tonia Haddix, who housed Tonka at her home near Festus. However, when a judge ordered Haddix to hand over Tonka and other animals, Haddix claimed Tonka was dead.

She couldn't provide any proof, saying that her husband had burned the chimp's body after he died of natural causes.

Haddix even wept over the loss to St. Louis Public Radio last winter, saying she loved Tonka more than her own two children.

But U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry was skeptical, and PETA was convinced Haddix was lying. Cumming himself put up a $10,000 reward for anyone who provided information leading to Tonka's safe recovery.

That proof came a few months ago, via a surreptitiously recorded phone call obtained by PETA. In it, Haddix was recorded telling a documentary producer, "If he was not a wanted fugitive, do you realize you can make a million dollars off of TikTok off of him?"

In June, U.S. Marshals raided Haddix's home in the Lake of the Ozarks and found Tonka in a tiny cage in her basement.

Tonka is now able to live out the rest of his days at Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida, north of Palm Beach.

The animal reportedly needs to lose some weight after his time in confinement, but PETA says he's on the road to recovery.

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