The distraught owner of a monkey seized after being found wandering at a Toronto IKEA may be allowed to visit him, once the "media buzz" dies down.
Yasmin Nakhuda had taken care of Darwin, which Toronto Animal Services says is a rhesus macaque, for the last five and a half months and has called for the animal to choose whether he wants to return to her care.
She says they "bonded" and that he is distressed when separated from her. She played with him and took him along while working and shopping. She says she even showered with him and there is video of them brushing their teeth, him beside her and aping her actions.
But on Sunday the seven-month old was taken by Toronto city staff and a day later he found a home, at least temporarily, at a primate care facility northeast of the city. He has been settling in and meeting the other monkeys. Staff there hope he will eventually find a mother figure in a baboon at the facility.
In a statement late Tuesday, the Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary said the case showed the cruelty of the exotic pet trade, which leaves mother animals "in terrible health and grieving" after their young are taken from them.
"While images of Darwin in a coat and diapers appear to indicate that he is well cared for … even with the best intentions owners are not equipped to handle a mature monkey with large canines who will demonstrate natural aggressive behaviours and tendencies," they noted.
"We are frequently contacted by owners who can no longer handle their 'pet' monkey and need to relinquish them for safety purposes – this could have been Darwin in a few years if he hadn't escaped."
They are willing to work with Ms. Nakhuda once the world's attention has dissipated to help reassure her that the monkey is in good hands, saying they will accommodate requests that are in his best interest.
But Ms. Nakhuda insists she will do a better job than the sanctuary.
"This monkey cannot be away from me for five minutes without having a panic attack as baby monkeys only step off their mother's back when they have their mothers in view," she wrote in an e-mail Tuesday evening. "They only they feel safe if they know their mother is around to protect them from predators ... For now Darwin needs my back. And I need him back."
The move to the sanctuary – which launched a fundraising appeal that quickly started to pull in donations– capped an eventful day for the seven-month-old monkey.
Darwin's bad adventure started when he was found in the parking lot of a North York IKEA. Wearing a dirty faux-shearling coat and a diaper, he had apparently opened his crate and then the door of his owners' vehicle. By turns alarmed and charmed, passers-by shot pictures that helped carry the story around the world.
The escape did not amuse Toronto Animal Services, though, who noted that this species can carry a type of herpes dangerous to humans. Staff members caring for him were approaching him only after donning gowns and filter masks. While the monkey was in their care they kept visits to a minimum and did not let the media see him.
The monkey's owners were fined $240 for breaking the city's bylaw on prohibited animals. According to city staff, they said they got the monkey in Montreal when he was about one and a half months old. Ms. Nakhuda told reporters that she agreed to care for the monkey on a temporary basis but that he was too distressed at leaving her to be given back. She believes the separation is weighing on him now.
"How do we know what he needs unless he's given the right to choose?" she asked CP24 early Tuesday. "I think he should be given the right to choose. If he chooses something else than me, that's fine. For me, it has never been about me, it has always been about him."
In previous interviews she said the monkey "cannot live without me" and that "he needs his mother like a child needs his mother."
"Is anyone at the sanctuary willing to have Darwin on their backs for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week?" she questioned in her e-mail. "For this is how he lived with me. There were no signs of him being unhappy or stressed out when he was in my care."
In the past two months, Ms. Nakhuda has posted videos of her pet monkey on YouTube, including ones of him wearing overalls, on the end of a leash marked "bad to the bone" and another of him tussling with a dog.
"He is more than a handful: needs to be baby bottle fed night time and needs at least three diaper changes a day. He has to be with me all the time which means he goes with me to the office, sleeps with me, eats with me, showers with me, goes shopping with me," she wrote next to one of the clips.
On Tuesday she noted that "there are no books" telling her how to raise him and that she learned as she went. But Mary Lou Leiher, program manager for partnerships and marketing for Toronto Animal Services, has said that there are reasons for the city's ban on many species.
"It's a very exotic choice for a pet," she told reporters during a press conference earlier this week in a cat room at Animal Services' northern region facility. "Common sense would say, 'Get a dog.'"
Rhesus macaques, which have the widest range of any non-human primate, grow to approximately the size of a toddler. A male may reach 17 pounds and stands about 21 inches high. They are omnivorous. The monkey's owners had formally surrendered custody of him and Ms. Leiher insisted there was "no chance" he could end up in a lab.
On Tuesday, an online fundraising drive channeling the monkey was launched by the sanctuary, soliciting donations and offering pictures of Darwin for various sums.
"Story Book farm did not expect to get me for Christmas and we could desperately use funds to help pay for my care as well as the other amazing monkey friends I have made," reads the appeal, called Dollars for Darwin. "I will eat A LOT of food. I would also love to be able to play with toys and other enrichment items and all of this costs money. Please consider making a donation towards my care, this is my Christmas wish."