Victory! After Years of Dedicated Effort, PETA Secures a New Life for Exploited Chimpanzees

Published by Katherine Sullivan.

Massive victory! Six chimpanzees are finally safe at a true sanctuary after years of deprivation at a former breeding facility in Festus, Missouri, thanks to PETA’s determined work on their behalf.

These highly intelligent and sensitive animals were confined at a decrepit facility called the Missouri Primate Foundation, where they were often warehoused inside cramped cells strewn with trash and their own waste. The stench of urine in one room was so overwhelming that a volunteer couldn’t enter—but there was no escape for the chimpanzees forced to live there.

But not anymore. As of last week, the chimpanzees now live at an accredited sanctuary. Instead of barren cages, they’ll have a lush outdoor habitat where they can freely roam, explore, and play with other rescued chimpanzees. They’re already enjoying nutritious food and receiving expert care, and they’ll never again be exploited in any way.

For years, the Missouri Primate Foundation was the primary source of chimpanzees who were sold into the entertainment industry and the exotic-pet trade. This sad chapter in history is now closed, thanks to PETA.

Lisa Marie, a chimpanzee who was born at the Missouri Primate Foundation

Left: Chimpanzee Lisa Marie was born at the former breeding compound known as the Missouri Primate Foundation before she was sold to a private owner as a “pet” and forced to perform in shows with her Elvis impersonator owner and live in a basement in Chicago. Right: Here’s Lisa Marie after PETA helped rescue and transfer her to a lush, spacious sanctuary in 2015.

PETA Reveals Misery in Missouri

The new life that these chimpanzees are now enjoying is the culmination of years of dedicated effort by PETA, including our eyewitness investigation of the Missouri Primate Foundation in 2014, which revealed just how miserable—and likely illegal—conditions were for the animals confined there.

Here are some of our findings from that investigation:

  • Several chimpanzees were exhibiting signs of over-grooming, which can indicate psychological distress.
  • Two chimpanzees named Connor and Candy were overweight.
  • A chimpanzee named Joey was kept in solitary confinement.
  • Excessive trash, debris, and apparent fecal matter were observed in the chimpanzees’ enclosures, and it was revealed that the facility only cleaned the cage floors once per week.
  • The facility’s operator at the time, Connie Casey, was running it using nothing but her social security check. Reputable sanctuaries spend a minimum of $16,000 per year per chimpanzee to provide these sensitive, highly complex animals with appropriate care.

Beatings and Kidnappings: A Whistleblower’s Harrowing Account

After PETA broke our investigation, a former volunteer for the facility named Angela Scott contacted us to report concerns of abuse and neglect there. Brittany Peet from the PETA Foundation’s legal team met with Scott to hear her account, and it was as harrowing as we’d feared.

Scott described how Casey’s ex-husband would punch the chimpanzees and how workers at the facility would kidnap 3-day-old baby chimpanzees from their mothers—which she claimed involved luring the animals into cages and shooting them with blow darts while they screamed. According to Scott, one chimpanzee named Tammy became so upset that she would scream, throw items around in her cage, lift up her blanket to search for her babies, and then lie on a barrel for days with no appetite. One of Tammy’s daughters is believed to be Lisa Marie, pictured above, who was also exploited in the entertainment industry and who lived as a “pet” for years before PETA secured her a place at an accredited sanctuary in Florida.

Scott proved to be a valuable ally, even becoming a plaintiff in PETA’s Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuit against the former Missouri Primate Foundation.

No Hallmark Ending for Exploited Chimpanzees

PETA also launched a parallel campaign against greeting card companies Hallmark and American Greetings, calling on both to pull all cards featuring chimpanzees. One of the chimpanzees PETA rescued from the Missouri Primate Foundation, Connor, was used for controversial greeting cards that Hallmark still sells today.

On the set of his final photo shoot, Connor reportedly bit his handler and tried to attack three other people. At PETA’s urging, American Greetings eventually agreed to pull all cards featuring Connor, but the company has refused to stop selling all cards featuring chimpanzees. Hallmark, too, seems to be stuck in a cruel, bygone era.

Connor at the Missouri Primate Foundation

Connor at the Missouri Primate Foundation

PETA’s Landmark Legal Case Makes Exploiters Quake

It was clear that the Missouri Primate Foundation wasn’t about to release its captives without a fight, so in 2017, our legal eagles filed an ESA lawsuit against Casey and the Missouri Primate Foundation.

We had a little help from our friends, too. Actor Alan Cumming, who appeared in the 1997 film Buddy with Tonka—one of the chimpanzees confined at the Missouri Primate Foundation—announced PETA’s lawsuit at a news conference. Cumming had previously sent a heartfelt plea to Casey, calling on her to release the chimpanzees to an accredited sanctuary, but to no avail. “Tonka and I developed a close camaraderie during the months we filmed,” Cumming said. “I am confident the courts will allow Tonka to enjoy some semblance of the life nature intended for him and the other discarded chimps.”

PETA’s lawsuit quickly won a reprieve for two chimpanzees boarded at the facility named Allie and Chloe. Their owners—who were listed as defendants in PETA’s lawsuit—agreed to surrender the animals to accredited sanctuaries, where they’re both thriving today.

The Missouri Primate Foundation Fails—and Chimpanzees Win!

In 2018, Casey transferred ownership of the remaining chimpanzees to Tonia Haddix, an exotic-animal broker who sells primates and other animals to the pet trade and roadside zoos. PETA promptly added Haddix as a defendant in our lawsuit.

Then, in 2020, we negotiated a consent agreement that allowed Haddix to keep three of the chimpanzees at the facility if she met certain conditions—including constructing appropriate facilities for the animals—and allowed PETA to transfer the remaining four chimpanzees to an accredited sanctuary. The agreement specified that if Haddix failed to satisfy the conditions, all seven chimpanzees were to be transferred to a true sanctuary.

And guess what? She failed, and the chimpanzees won! Last week, the court ordered that all seven animals be transferred to an accredited sanctuary.

Great Apes Get a Great New Beginning

For the past three decades, the Center for Great Apes has provided over 40 chimpanzees with compassionate care—five of whom were originally born at Casey’s Missouri breeding compound and then sold as “pets.” This means that some of the six chimpanzees relocated last week to the sanctuary will meet their siblings for the first time and that Tammy will eventually meet one of her sons.

Pursuant to the consent agreement, Casey and Haddix are both prohibited from ever again owning or possessing chimpanzees.

However, there’s a troubling postscript to this otherwise happy ending. Tonka—the chimpanzee who starred in Buddy with Alan Cumming—was supposed to be one of the seven chimpanzees transferred to a sanctuary, but he’s missing. Haddix claims that Tonka died, yet she didn’t provide any proof, even after the court ordered her to do so. We’ve already filed a related motion with the court—we keep demanding documentation to ensure that Haddix isn’t lying about Tonka’s death and simply hiding the long-suffering chimpanzee.

PETA is also urging Hallmark and American Greetings to stop exploiting chimpanzees like Connor by demanding that they stop selling all greeting cards featuring clownish images of the vulnerable animals. Help us send these shameful, speciesist cards to history’s dustbin by clicking below:

Tell Hallmark Cards to Stop Exploiting Chimpanzees

Urge American Greetings to Do the Right Thing by Apes

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind