PETA has filed a suit against a Missouri facility that it has been warring with since late last year over the housing of a number of chimpanzees — two of which were used in Hollywood productions — to get these chimps out of cages and into a sanctuary. Actor Alan Cumming (The Good Wife, Battle of the Sexes) is helping spearhead the action with an appearance today at PETA’s offices because he bonded with one of the chimps named Tonka during production of his 1997 film Buddy. In fact, the now-22 year-old chimp was Cumming’s co-star and also appeared in George of the Jungle.
“There’s no Hollywood ending for exotic animals used in productions,” Cumming said in a statement. “They are separated from their mothers and made reliant on trainers, often to be discarded when they grow up and become too dangerous and unmanageable on sets. I was heartbroken to learn that Tonka has been languishing in a filthy cage for a decade, and I’m determined to help PETA free him and others like him from these squalid conditions.”
The other “notable” chimp housed there is 21-year-old Connor, who appeared in movies such as Spymate and MVP: Most Valuable Primate and was used on greeting cards by Hallmark and American Greetings.
The 11 primates are in cages in the Missouri Primate Foundation in Festus, MO, a very small town off of Highway 55 outside of St. Louis. A known high-risk area for tornadoes, Festus often is in the local news for getting hit by them.
The battle between the facility and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been going on since late last year after the animal-rights organization gave notice of its intent to sue (as is required under the Endangered Species Act). After being notified of the intent, the Foundation pre-emptively sued PETA in an attempt to bar them from filing any lawsuit and then charged defamation and took issue with some of PETA’s facts, saying it didn’t have 16 chimps in the facility as previously stated by the group.
That action was filed on December 30 and sought punitive damages from PETA. It also stated in its lawsuit that a worker at the facility was really just “an informer, snitch, agent and/or representative of PETA” who took videos and photographs of the Festus facility.
In the PETA suit filed in federal court this morning (filed federally because of the Endangered Species Act), the group now seeks to transfer Tonka and 10 other chimpanzees from the Missouri Primate Foundation to accredited sanctuaries, where they can socialize with other chimps, climb trees and roam instead of living in cages. PETA’s filing alleges that chimpanzees at the Missouri Primate Foundation are denied adequate socialization, environmental enrichment and veterinary care; are confined to cramped cages that are soiled often with their own waste; and have been forced to live among persistent fly and cockroach infestations — all in alleged violation of the Endangered Species Act.
“Tonka and I developed a close camaraderie during the months we filmed,” Cumming said in a statement. “We played together and groomed each other and developed a special relationship I will treasure forever. I am confident the courts will allow Tonka to enjoy some semblance of the life nature intended for him and the other discarded chimps. And I’m in Hollywood today to urge producers to follow the lead of Disney’s Jungle Book, which shows that CGI can not only lead to blockbusters but to spare exotic animals from a life of misery.”
Specifically, PETA gave a 60-day notification to the Foundation last year, letting it know, per what is required under the Endangered Species Act, that the group intended to sue; the Foundation then pre-emptively sued PETA, and PETA moved to dismiss the claim. That motion is pending. PETA answered today with a countersuit (read it here).
And here is a video that PETA made of how the chimps allegedly are living in the facility in Festus, MO, which the Foundation charges was taken not by an employee but a PETA plant: