Alan Cumming and PETA Ask Court to Free Chimpanzee Co-star From "Unsanitary" Sanctuary

Victoria Tulk/Courtesy of PETA
Alan Cumming

The actor and the animal-rights group want Tonka, who starred in the 1997 comedy 'Buddy,' freed from a cramped and "filthy" cage at a Missouri facility.

Alan Cumming and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have gone to court to get Tonka, a chimpanzee who co-starred alongside the actor in the 1997 comedy Buddy, out of "unsanitary" care in a Missouri facility.

The federal lawsuit, filed by PETA in the U.S. District Court of Missouri's Eastern Division on Friday, seeks to transfer Tonka and 10 other chimpanzees from the Missouri Primate Foundation, an animal-care facility, to accredited sanctuaries. "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," Cumming said in a statement that followed a press conference in Los Angeles and the filing of the suit.

Cumming and PETA earlier campaigned publicly for the Missouri Primate Foundation to release Tonka from allegedly substandard housing conditions. The Missouri facility on Dec. 30, 2016, brought its own suit against PETA for defamation over its claims about Tonka's welfare.

In its June 23 counterfiling, a copy of which has been obtained by THR, PETA alleges Tonka and other chimpanzees live in "barren and unsanitary enclosures in which they are inhumanely deprived of social contact, physical space and environmental enrichment." The legal firm Goldberg Segalla, which is representing the Missouri Primate Foundation in its legal claims against PETA, could not be reached for comment on Friday.

PETA said Tonka is around 22 years old and appeared in movies like Disney's George of the Jungle in 1997; Babe: Pig in the City, the 1998 pic from Kennedy Miller Productions; and Jim Henson Pictures' Buddy, which co-starred Cumming. The animal-rights group in its legal claim said Cumming and Tonka bonded during production.

"By the time filming was complete, Tonka would groom and play with Cumming in a manner Cumming thought was similar to how Tonka would interact with other chimpanzees," the suit claims. "Cumming found it hard to part with Tonka at the end of filming and is deeply troubled by the conditions in which Tonka is currently held," it adds.

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