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'George of the Jungle' chimp rescued from Missouri basement, taken to Florida for treatment

According to PETA, Festus resident Tonia Haddix falsely claimed Tonka had died when they seized five other animals last year.

FESTUS, Mo. — The animal star of "George of the Jungle" and "Buddy" was found and rescued from a Missouri basement last week.

Tonka the Chimp was rescued by PETA from Tonia Haddix, who had taken ownership of Tonka and other chimps after PETA sued over their living conditions at a different facility.

PETA said they found Tonka in a Sunrise Beach basement in the Lake of the Ozarks. A lawyer with the organization said Haddix took him there to go into hiding away from her home in Festus.

Tonka was confined to a tiny cage. He was overweight and lacked proper veterinary care, officials said.

According to PETA, Haddix falsely claimed Tonka had died when they seized five other animals last year.

The animal is now in the care of Save the Chimps, a sanctuary in Florida.

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

Credit: Save the Chimps
Tonka the chimp is now being treated at Save the Chimps in Florida.

In an October 2020 interview with 5 On Your Side, Haddix said she was a longtime caretaker of the chimps at the Missouri Primate Foundation in Festus.

The Missouri Primate Foundation had been locked in a bitter lawsuit with PETA since 2016 over allegations the chimps were held in unsanitary conditions and not given proper food or medical care.

As part of a consent order with PETA, four of the seven chimps at the Festus property were sent to the Center for Great Apes in Florida, an accredited sanctuary. 

Haddix was allowed to keep the remaining three, including Tonka, if she started her own nonprofit and met certain housing and care guidelines within six months.

Last July, PETA sued over the living conditions of the chimps and was granted permission to take Tonka and the other chimps from Haddix. When they went to get the chimps, Haddix claimed Tonka had died.

PETA launched a nationwide search and enlisted the help of Alan Cumming, Tonka's "Buddy" co-star. The search ended last week, when Tonka was found in the Missouri basement.

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