Clutching the little faux-shearling coat that helped rocket her monkey to fame, Yasmin Nakhuda said she would prefer never to see him again than to put them both through the trauma of a farewell visit at the sanctuary that has taken custody of him.
The Toronto woman was speaking after a morning of arguments in Ontario Superior Court, where lawyers sparred over whether she should get temporary custody while the monkey’s ownership is determined. Among the possibilities was whether she could get some sort of visitation rights, but Ms. Nakhuda said that she wasn’t willing to settle for anything.
“If I had a one-day visitation, I would not take it because it would be very harmful for Darwin,” she told the crush of reporters Thursday. “If he sees me, he’s going to run and hold onto me, so it might as well not be.”
The fate of Darwin, who was found wandering in an IKEA parking lot, won’t be known until Friday morning. He is now at Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ont.
The Ontario judge must weigh the arguments of Ms. Nakhuda’s lawyer, who holds that the world-famous monkey was unlawfully seized and unlawfully given to a sanctuary, with the counter-argument that wild animals, under the law, belong to whomever possesses them.
“It’s very clear who should get him,” Ms. Nakhuda told The Globe and Mail during a brief recess. “If it goes the other way it is an injustice.”
Her lawyer argued for the monkey to be returned to Ms. Nakhuda – who is willing to move out of Toronto, which bans non-human primates, in order to regain custody – while the matter is being hashed out in court. The lawyer for the sanctuary called that “an extraordinary remedy” to seek.
Known as Darwin, the macaque is now in the custody of a primate centre northeast of Toronto. They insist he will have a better quality of life there and hope he will find a maternal figure in a resident baboon.
Ms. Nakhuda shook her head with disbelief as the sanctuary’s lawyer, Kevin Toyne, suggested that issues of animal abuse could arise in this case. And she broke down in tears in court as her own lawyer described how zoologists, media and others have been able to see the monkey, while she has been prevented from visiting.
“She’s been trying to have access to Darwin since day one and has been denied,” Theodore Charney said.
He called “unreasonable” the terms of a recent offer that required her to be searched by police before entering the sanctuary, escorted by them while there and not to have any physical contact with the monkey.
“It’s as if I’m Osama bin Laden going to see a child,” Ms. Nakhuda said.
But Mr. Toyne said that the case has raised enormous public interest and that sanctuary staff have safety concerns. And they worry about Ms. Nakhuda’s effect on the monkey.
“There are concerns… with our clients that things have gone wrong with Darwin while he has been in Ms. Nakhuda’s custody,” he said.
This species is prohibited in Toronto, and the city’s animal services staff warn that it can carry a type of herpes dangerous to humans. Mr. Charney argued, though, that the bylaw doesn’t give animal services the right to seize the monkey.
“The penalty for keeping Darwin in Toronto is a ticket, nothing more,” he said.
The monkey shot to international attention after being found wandering earlier this month in the parking lot of a Toronto IKEA store. Clad in a diaper and coat, he had apparently escaped his crate and then figured out how to get open the vehicle’s door.
By turns charmed and alarmed, other shoppers took photographs that ran around the world. Less amused were animal services. He entered their custody – they say it was a voluntary surrender, Ms. Nakhuda insists she was coerced – and from there moved to Story Book Farm.