Darwin the “IKEA monkey” will remain in an animal sanctuary and not be returned to the woman who calls herself his “mom,” an Ontario judge decided Friday morning.
Ontario Superior Court Judge Mary Vallee dismissed a bid by Yasmin Nakhuda, who was caring for the monkey until last December, to try to get the monkey back. In her decision, Justice Vallee concluded that Darwin qualifies as a “wild animal” and not a pet, and that Ms. Nakhuda lost ownership of him as soon as he escaped from her car in December.
Darwin captured the world’s attention last winter after he was found wandering alone in an Ikea parking lot in North York, having escaped from a locked crate in a car. Images of the tiny, shearling coat-clad Japanese macaque soon went viral on social media, and Darwin quickly became known simply as the “IKEA monkey.”
Ms. Nakhuda had sued Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary – where the monkey has lived since he was seized by animal services – to get him back. Shortly after Darwin’s seizure, she signed a form transferring the monkey’s ownership to the city. Ms. Nakhuda, who is a real-estate lawyer, later claimed she was tricked into signing the form.
Kevin Toyne, the sanctuary’s lawyer, said his clients are relieved by Friday’s decision. “These are people who are dedicated to helping abused and neglected primates, and it’s been a trying time for them,” he said. “Today, they get to relax a bit, breathe a sigh of relief, and know that some of the things that have been happening recently will hopefully subside now that the court has recognized that the sanctuary owns Darwin.”
The case highlighted the problem of inconsistent regulation from jurisdiction to jurisdiction surrounding exotic animals as pets. Owning a pet monkey is illegal in Toronto, though it became clear in Darwin’s case that animal services was unclear about its authority to enforce this law. The exotic animal issue gained further prominence last month after two young New Brunswick boys were killed by a python as they slept. Police in New Brunswick are still investigating that case.
Justice Vallee’s decision partly addresses this, specifying a number of animals that qualify as “wild” (such as lions, tigers, eagles, and deer), and reinforcing that if one of these wild animals escape, a person’s ownership is no longer valid. “A high onus regarding provision of secure housing for wild animals is appropriate to place on their owners,” her decision reads. “Wild animals, particularly exotic ones, can be dangerous to the public.”
A representative at the office of Ted Charney, Ms. Nakhuda’s lawyer, said that neither Mr. Charney or Ms. Nakhuda would be available for comment Friday.
In court in June, Mr. Charney and Ms. Nakhuda had argued that Darwin is a domesticated pet, and his seizure unlawful.
Darwin lived in Ms. Nakhuda’s home with her husband and two children for five months before he was seized by Animal Services. According to Justice Vallee’s decision, Ms. Nakhuda clothed Darwin, and allowed him to sleep in her bed. Her YouTube account features dozens of videos of the monkey, including one of her changing his diaper, and another of the pair brushing their teeth together. In April, Ms. Nakhuda released a book about Darwin’s IKEA adventure, to help cover her legal costs.