FESTUS, Mo. – One month after wildlife workers and U.S. Marshals seized chimpanzees from a Festus property, the legal battle continues between PETA and the chimps’ former caregivers.
At issue is the fate of one chimp in particular—Tonka—whom the Festus caregivers say died and was later cremated. PETA claims they faked Tonka’s death so they wouldn’t have to surrender the animal to federal authorities.
Only July 28, six chimpanzees were removed from the Festus facility and transported in an air-conditioned trailer to the Center for Great Apes, an animal sanctuary in Florida, in accordance with a judge’s order.
Tonia Haddix, who took over caring for the chimpanzees on behalf of Connie Casey, said Tonka died in May. The chimps were all housed on Casey’s property, which she called the Missouri Primate Foundation (MPF).
Haddix had intervened about five years ago in PETA’s lawsuit, alleging unsafe and unsanitary conditions. She’d hoped to keep the chimpanzees in Festus but ultimately lost that battle.
In addition to having to surrender the animals, the judge ruled that Haddix and Casey could never again own or possess a chimpanzee.
That judge also ordered Haddix to prove Tonka’s death.
For her part, Haddix claims Tonka died in May and was cremated on the property. She told FOX 2’s Chris Hayes that she was willing to provide PETA with proof of Tonka’s passing.
“Yeah and I will gladly give PETA a copy – a piece of their ashes or some ashes, so they can DNA test that to make sure they know it’s a chimpanzee or Tonka’s bloodline or Tonka that’s in that box,” she said in July.
Court filings from PETA say they were provided an email from Haddix’s husband, indicating Tonka was cremated on a pyre between 165 or 170 degrees. PETA says it’s not possible to cremate an animal at such temperatures. Lawyers representing the Missouri Primate Foundation claim the numbers were a typographical error and that Tonka was cremated between 1,600 and 1,800 degrees.
PETA also claims a whisteblower reached out to them and informed them Tonka was not only alive but that Haddix was planning on obtaining a baby chimp in direct violation of the judge’s orders.
Haddix has denied those accusations.