Actor Alan Cumming wants an animal sanctuary in Festus, Mo., to release all of its resident chimps – including one named Tonka who starred with the actor in the 1997 comedy “Buddy.”
In a letter addressed to the Missouri Primate Foundation, and published by The Daily Mail last week, the British actor sounds distressed to have recently learned Tonka is allegedly in the Show-Me-State.
He and Tonka developed a “special friendship – one I’ll always treasure,” he wrote. “I hoped to see Tonka the following year at the film’s premiere but was told that he was no longer manageable and had been ‘retired to Palm Springs.’ Over the past 20 years, I imagined him living out his post-Hollywood years on a sprawling sanctuary.
“I just learned, though, that Tonka didn’t end up at a sanctuary in Palm Springs but inside a cage in Festus, where he isn’t able to have complex social relationships with other chimpanzees and doesn’t have meaningful outdoor access to run, climb, or play.
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“As an old friend of Tonka’s, I respectfully ask that you allow him and the chimpanzees at MPF to be sent to accredited sanctuaries.”
Cumming, a longtime PETA supporter, has inserted himself into a battle between the national animal advocacy group and the animal nonprofit south of St. Louis, which has referred to PETA as a “militant, activist, animal rights group.”
Late last year PETA charged that the Missouri sanctuary is a “filthy” place where 16 chimps “live amid trash and their own waste,” according to the Riverfront Times in St. Louis.
The group threatened to sue Missouri Primate Foundation under the Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal for anyone, with some exceptions, to “take” endangered fish or wildlife.
PETA alleged that the business housed at least 16 chimpanzees in “filthy, virtually barren enclosures” without adequate space to climb and roam, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
PETA called the location “ground zero in the United States for the cruel trade in chimpanzees as primate pets and for the purposes of entertainment.”
“If you’ve seen chimpanzees on greeting cards, in movies at roadside zoos or in circuses, it’s likely they were born here or have ties to this place,” contends a PETA video.
The Post-Dispatch reported that the sanctuary’s owner, Connie Braun Casey and her then-husband ran the foundation along with a now-closed business called Chimparty that provided chimpanzees for parties, television ads and movies.
The Post-Dispatch discovered 10 U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports since January 2014 detailing more than a dozen violations at the place, ranging from cockroaches and scattered feces to poor ventilation and animal hair loss.
PETA attorney Brittany Peet told the Post-Dispatch the group threatened a lawsuit to get Casey to surrender the animals and have them moved to an accredited chimpanzee sanctuary, at no cost to her.
“These chimpanzees are suffering, and we want to work with her to do the right thing,” Peet told the newspaper.
But the foundation fought back, filing a lawsuit on Dec. 30 seeking an injunction to stop PETA’s suit.
The Riverfront Times reported the foundation’s lawsuit charges PETA with defamation and making false allegations, denying that 16 chimpanzees are housed in Festus.
It also charged that PETA used a spy posing as a volunteer to take undercover photos and videos of its facilities to build a case for taking the chimps away, according to Courthouse News Service
The former volunteer, Angela Scott, “acted as an informer, snitch, agent, and/or representative of PETA,” the formal complaint alleged.
The foundation claims that PETA’s ultimate goals are to “end private ownership of animals and to have human or non-property rights bestowed upon non-wild, non-human primates, which under applicable law are considered to be private property.”