A Missouri woman was ordered to pay PETA more than $200,000 in legal fees after she faked the death of a movie star chimp that had a role in the 1997 film “Buddy,” a federal court ruled this week.
Tonia Haddix must fork over about $225,000 in legal fees to the animal rights group due to her tall tale that the chimpanzee she was caring for, Tonka, had died and was cremated, Judge Catherine Perry determined.
The false death claim, relayed under oath, resulted in PETA needing to bill for hundreds of attorney work hours that cost thousands of dollars, the group successfully argued, according to reports.
At the center of the case are several chimps, including Tonka, who was in “Buddy” that starred actor Alan Cumming, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Years ago, PETA accused a primate facility where Haddix worked of improperly caring for the chimps housed there, and in 2020, Haddix agreed to let four monkeys go to a sanctuary while holding onto three, including Tonka, through a consent decree the newspaper reported.
Haddix denied any allegations of poor care for the chimps.
But she failed to live up to the mandates of the decree, PETA argued and in 2021 local authorities and US Marshals removed the remaining chimps from Haddix’s care. She then lied to authorities that Tonka died from heart failure and her husband even swore on a court affidavit that he cremated the body, according to the newspaper.
The truth came out after PETA discovered a recorded phone call between Haddix and a documentary filmmaker that Tonka was alive and living out of her finished basement.
The chimp had a big screen television and iPad so he could watch YouTube until an outdoor enclosure was built for him, she had told the Post-Dispatch.
She reportedly said she kept him so he “would die peacefully and with people who loved him. I did it for that chimp.”
Authorities seized the elderly animal and sent him to a chimp sanctuary in Florida.
“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,” PETA Foundation General Counsel for Animal Law Jared Goodman said in a statement this week, according to Fox 2.
“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.”