Woman Who Faked Chimpanzee’s Death Must Lose License, PETA Tells Feds

For Immediate Release:
October 20, 2022

Robin Goist 202-483-7382

Festus, Mo. – This morning, PETA sent a complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging Director Robert M. Gibbens to revoke the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) licenses of Tonia Haddix and her husband, Jerry Aswegan, for repeatedly committing perjury and submitting false information to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri throughout PETA’s successful lawsuit against Haddix. The group’s filing alleged that she had kept seven chimpanzees, including Tonka, who appeared alongside Alan Cumming in the film Buddy, in substandard conditions in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

After PETA received a court order to rescue all the chimpanzees held by Haddix, she and Aswegan concocted an elaborate hoax, claiming that Tonka had died and that Aswegan had cremated his body in a backyard fire pit. She then lied under oath about text messages she had sent saying that Tonka needed groceries, even though he was supposedly dead. And after Tonka was discovered locked in a cage in her basement, she reportedly tried to bribe the federal marshals who were sent by the court to prevent her from moving or “euthanizing” him. PETA points out that the USDA’s regulations state that an AWA license may be terminated if the licensee makes false statements to a government agency or is otherwise unfit to be licensed.

“Haddix and Aswegan must face the consequences for spinning a web of lies at Tonka’s expense,” says PETA Foundation General Counsel Jared Goodman. “PETA is calling on the USDA to revoke these abusers’ licenses so that other animals will be safe from their clutches.”

During PETA’s lawsuit, the court found Haddix—who also made false statements about the status of enclosures she was supposed to build—in contempt on multiple occasions and recommended that she and Aswegan be criminally investigated for perjury by the district U.S. attorney.

Tonka was ultimately rescued by PETA and now lives at the lush, tropical Save the Chimps sanctuary in Florida, where he can climb to the top of his spacious enclosure, interact with his chimpanzee neighbors, and spend as much time as he likes outdoors—even when it rains.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment or abuse in any other way”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information about PETA’s investigative newsgathering and reporting, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

For Media: Contact PETA's
Media Response Team.


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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