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Toronto Darwin the IKEA monkey to star in sanctuary fundraising campaign

Darwin the monkey celebrates the second anniversary of his rise to fame at a sanctuary near Sunderland, Ont., on Friday.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The sanctuary where Darwin lives is banking on the idea that the monkey who first attracted widespread attention for wandering an IKEA parking lot in a shearling coat can still pull in a crowd.

The volunteer-run board of Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ont., where Darwin lives, says its 16-hectare facility is at capacity and turning away monkeys seeking a permanent home.

That's why it's looking to move to a 25-hectare property just outside Port Perry, Ont., currently housing the Northwood Buffalo and Exotic Animal Ranch, which can fit upward of 160 animals. The current owner of the ranch is set to retire.

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The sanctuary has set up an Indiegogo campaign over the next 19 days with a goal of raising $500,000 to complete the move by spring of 2015. On Friday night, it had raised slightly more than $9,000. The target would help the 20-volunteer sanctuary hire its first permanent staff member and retrofit its existing buildings, among other initiatives.

And Darwin will be a big part of that campaign.

"People see the picture with him in the coat and say, 'Oh I love Darwin he's so great,' but then for people to understand that he's going to live at least another 40 years if not more … there's a whole life behind that," sanctuary volunteer and board member Rachelle Hansen said.

"So we wanted to have Darwin as the ambassador for monkeys that come out of the pet situation."

The Indiegogo Web page features a prominent picture of the monkey under the words "Darwin's Dream." Below are the words: "Darwin IKEA monkey needs a new home by spring 2015!"

On Friday, the 2 1/2-year-old Japanese macaque picked around a cake specially designed for him as media watched at the sanctuary. It was an anniversary of sorts for the day Darwin first made headlines.

Two years ago, his furry face became famous when he was seen wandering around a Toronto-area IKEA parking lot. The story garnered much attention as his then-owner fought in court, unsuccessfully, to keep him.

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Now, Darwin has a new family of 22 other primates at the sanctuary, including two other fully-grown Japanese macaques. He has grown to 45 pounds, about double what he weighed at the height of his fame.

"When the media covered him, he was very sweet in his little coat, but they grow to full-grown size," says Ms. Hansen. "Japanese macaques are the most volatile, meaning they're very aggressive, they'll fight with each other. This is who they need to be. You can't diaper him."

Ms. Hansen says the goal of the sanctuary is to help reintegrate monkeys like Darwin back into their natural environment where they can interact with others like them.

The retiring owner of the ranch has agreed to leave 20 primates currently living there, including two young macaques.

"That's why we are so desiring that new property," says Ms. Hansen. "It's not just about the property, it's about him being able to have a family."

With a report from The Canadian Press

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