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Owner of viral sensation IKEA monkey wants him back

Dec. 12, 2012 at 2:28 PM ET

In Yasmin Nakhuda's mind, this is serious monkey business.

The owner of a monkey that went from a well-dressed pet wandering around an IKEA to an Internet meme on Sunday, the Canadian real estate lawyer is desperate to regain custody of the animal after it was taken to a sanctuary by authorities. 

The infant macaque named Darwin was turned over to a private primate sanctuary in rural Ontario after being found wandering in an IKEA in Toronto on Sunday while wearing a miniature faux-shearling coat and a diaper. Darwin escaped from his cage in Nakhuda’s car in the parking lot and started wandering around the store, according to local authorities. Pictures of the monkey posted on Twitter by shoppers quickly went viral.

Story: Lost monkey in stylish coat drives IKEA shoppers bananas

It is illegal to keep a monkey as a pet in Toronto, so Nakhuda was fined $240 and Darwin was seized by Toronto Animal Services and taken to Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ont. Nakhuda, who can be seen in a YouTube video brushing her teeth while holding Darwin as he also brushes his teeth, has been distraught since being separated from the animal. She wants him back and is currently mulling over legal action.

“What makes the sanctuary better caregivers than me?” Nakhuda wrote in an email to TODAY.com. “If it is a larger space area that Darwin needed, I would have provided that to him when he was big enough to get off my back! For now he needs my back. And I need him back.’’

In Canada, there are no federal or provincial regulations governing the ownership of an exotic animal, so it is left up to local municipalities to determine which animals are legal to own. In Toronto, ownership of any primates is illegal. Prior to Sunday’s incident, Nakhuda said she initially tried to return him to the breeder she purchased him from, but relented when she claims the monkey got separation anxiety.

Nahkuda has not visited Darwin at the sanctuary yet, but Story Book has tried to reach out to her to arrange one.  

“We are not opposed to this,’’ Izzy Hirji of the Story Book board of directors told TODAY.com. “We are willing to communicate with her to provide her updates on Darwin's adjustment and potentially arrange a visit once things have calmed down.’’

But that hasn't placated Nakhuda.

“They throw him bananas and he is not crazy for bananas," Nakhuda wrote. "They say taking him away from me so brutally without allowing him to see me is best for him when in fact Japanese snow macaque babies live on their mothers' backs for a year or more.

“Is anyone at the sanctuary willing to have Darwin on their backs for 24 hours a day and seven days a week? For this is how he lived with me. There were no signs of him being unhappy or stressed out. This monkey cannot be away from me for 5 minutes without having a panic attack...”

Macaques have a volatile nature and also carry diseases communicable to humans like Herpes B and hepatitis, according to the sanctuary.

“People do not realize that monkeys do not make good pets,’’ Story Book founder Sherri Delaney said. “Raising them as humans is detrimental to their development, mental and social well-being. While images of Darwin in a coat and diapers appear to indicate that he is well-cared for, albeit highly unnatural, even with the best intentions owners are not equipped to handle a mature monkey with large canines who will demonstrate natural aggressive behaviors and tendencies.’’

The dangers of owning primates have been illustrated by some high-profile events in recent years. Connecticut woman Charla Nash lost her face and hands after being attacked by a friend's chimpanzee in 2009. California man St. James Davis had his nose and mouth ripped off and lost an eye in a chimp attack at an animal sanctuary in 2005, requiring more than 60 surgeries. St. James and his wife had raised the chimp as a human, dressing it up in dinner jackets and teaching it to use a toilet, before it was moved to an animal sanctuary in 1999 for biting a woman on the finger.

“He is adjusting well already, and is extremely confident for such a little monkey,’’ Delaney said. “He has been exploring his enclosure, playing with all his toys and interacting with the other monkeys in surrounding enclosures. Our hope is that he can be adopted by one of our baboons with a maternal instinct, since he is in need of a mother figure in his life.’’

While several parody Twitter accounts for the IKEA Monkey sprung up on Sunday, the monkey does have an official Facebook page, where people can keep track of Darwin's progress. Story Book is also accepting donations for his care on its website.  

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