At first, Yasmin Nakhuda decided she didn’t want the monkey she named Darwin.
Nakhuda said she thought the tiny macaque in her Agincourt home was suffering, missing its biological parents.
“In the middle of the night he would wake up and have anxiety attacks,” and would curl into a ball, she recalled this week.
The primate now known to the world as the “Ikea monkey” seemed too much then for the Scarborough woman to handle. Changing Darwin’s diaper, she said, “was so difficult and horrific” and there was no real bond between them.
“I didn’t know how much a baby monkey needs his mother. He was rejecting me.”
When a man who had brought Darwin to her from Montreal returned, Nakhuda, a real estate lawyer, told him she couldn’t cope.
“I didn’t expect a monkey to require so much time,” she said.
But Darwin, who was barely more than two and a half months old, wouldn’t go with the man, “and he started screaming. We were both shocked.”
The monkey - named Darwin because “his little fingers, totally like a little human being,” made Nakhuda think of “the missing link” - was her constant companion for six months, until the Ikea incident.
On Thursday, Dec. 20, Nakhuda hopes to be in a courtroom arguing Toronto Animal Services seized Darwin from her illegally, and she should get him back. In her Markham Road law office, Nakhuda said she committed to give the monkey – she says is a Japanese macaque (TAS says Darwin is a rhesus macaque) – round-the-clock attention.
“I need to be always within his view,” she explained, adding “monkeys don’t make good pets generally” because people can’t take such good care of them.
But Darwin became “the pivot of our family” and accompanied Nakhuda to work, the gym, the nail salon, Quisnos, and The Brick.
The monkey was on a leash around unfamiliar people, but Nakhuda said her husband, children, office staff and clients were supportive. Nakhuda said she and Darwin had been escorted out of the North York Ikea before, but on Dec. 9, she needed a picture frame and cards for her staff. She parked and left the monkey in a double-locked “soft crate” in her locked car.
Being a “very, very smart little monkey,” Darwin managed to escape both and wandered the parking lot screeching, “looking for his mother,” Nakhuda said, before Toronto Animal Services arrived.
The Scarborough woman said the monkey loved being dressed. On that day, Darwin was dressed in a sheepskin coat and diaper, which the TAS officers asked Nakhuda to remove.
“He loved the coat. He wanted it on, he felt warm,” describing the moment as traumatic for the macaque.
“Darwin started screaming when I had him in my arms. He was absolutely devastated and he started screaming,” Nakhuda said.
Nakhuda said she thought the city employees would check Darwin for diseases and return him, but added when she called a supervisor the next day no one returned her call.
“I didn’t expect them to take my monkey and say it’s theirs.”
There are, of course, other opinions on how Darwin was faring during the Ikea visit and on Nakhuda’s ownership of the monkey. Dollars for Darwin, a campaign at the Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary to raise money in the monkey’s name, declares Darwin (in a first-person account posted by shelter president and co-founder Sherri Delaney) was “scared and confused” when found.
“I am so happy to finally be able to live and act like a real monkey!” says the campaign testimonial, which has raised $2,667 for the Sunderland, ON, sanctuary so far, partly by selling photographs of Darwin for $50 and $100.
Nakhuda dismisses the santuary’s view that Darwin needs to learn from other monkeys and perhaps a surrogate monkey mother. The city, which maintains monkey ownership in Toronto is illegal, may be granted an adjournment this week, which Nakhuda said is a delay meant to break her bond with the monkey.
“Assuming I cannot own Darwin in Toronto, I should have been offered an opportunity to take Darwin and leave Toronto,” she said, noting the City of Kawartha Lakes has no prohibition against monkeys.
Nakhuda continued to insist that given enough love and training and attention, a monkey like Darwin can live with humans and won’t be a threat to people.
“Not all dogs are vicious dogs. Not all humans are criminals,” she said.