Monkeys Belong in a Jungle, Not an IKEA

They're called ‘wild animals’ for a reason, people. Come on, use your heads.

Meet Darwin—the jacket-wearing monkey that walked into an IKEA. (Photo: whatsonsonya.com)
wrote the bestseller Soldier Dogs and was staff writer at USA Today and the San Francisco Chronicle.

So a monkey walks into IKEA...

Sounds like the start of a bad joke. Only this just happened in real life in Toronto, Canada.

A seven-month-old rhesus macaque managed to get out of a car parked in the lot and into the giant store. (Getting through the door must have been interesting…) The little fellow was wearing diapers and a beautiful, fleece-lined suede coat.

Seeing this tiny, well-dressed figure making his way through the store must have been a surprising experience for the shoppers who saw him. “Umm saw a monkey in the IKEA parking lot,” witness Bronwyn Page posted in a tweet, where she also posted a photo of a roly-poly-looking figure. 

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The monkey’s owner, real estate agent Yasmin Nakhuda, was eventually found, and fined $240. Toronto Animal Services took away the monkey, whose name is Darwin. It’s illegal to have a monkey in Toronto. Nakhuda had recently come from Montreal with him, where it appears it’s legal to have a monkey as a pet. She was told when she got him to “keep him low profile.”

On Monday, Darwin moved to Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary, in rural Ontario. There, he’s being paired with a “motherly” monkey, and will gradually become part of a troop of monkeys—as nature intended, says the sanctuary’s founder, Sherri Delaney.

“These animals are not meant as pets. They’re not meant to take the place of a child,” she said to the National Post. “Did he need to be in a coat? No, he didn’t. Did he need to be in a diaper? No.”

But after looking at a video with some sweet footage of Darwin at home (playing with a dog!), and hearing Nakhuda talking about how he was always with her, I have to admit, I felt kind of sorry for her, and for Darwin too. She is probably the only “mom” figure he has known for many months. I mean, he even slept beside her and showered with her. It had to be a hard transition for both. Check out this other video of them “brushing” their teeth together.

“I know he cannot live without me,” she said in the National Post article, in which she pleaded for his return. “And everyone who knows Darwin can vouch for this. He needs his mother like a child needs his mother.”

Even the sanctuary’s Delaney said she realizes Darwin’s owner “loves him very much.”

But the reality is that the best place for Darwin isn’t on the end of a leash, or in a Halloween costume. It’s with others of his kind. Monkeys aren’t dogs. (Not that I’m big on dogs in Halloween costumes either.) They haven’t evolved/been bred over the thousands of years to meld seamlessly into the human lifestyle. They need each other.

Besides that, monkeys are known for monkey business, and that can take them out of cars and into parking lots and other dangerous situations. In addition, monkeys can carry the herpes B virus, which is potentially deadly to people.

And then there are truly gruesome, hard-to-stomach examples of Simian violence, as TakePart summarized a year ago:

March 2005. West Covina, California. St. James Davis and his wife LaDonna were visiting Animal Haven Ranch to celebrate the thirty-ninth birthday of their house-trained chimpanzee, Mo. He had been removed from their suburban Los Angeles home years earlier after biting off a woman’s finger. When the couple approached Mo’s cage with his birthday cake, two other chimps, Ollie and Buddy,attacked St. James. The 62-year-old somehow survived a litany of gruesome injuries, which included the chimps chewing off most of his face, tearing off his foot, and mutilating his genitals.

February 2009. Stamford, Connecticut. A 200-pound chimp named Travis mauled his owner's friend, Charla Davis, ripping off her nose, lips, eyelids, and hands before being shot and killed by police. The paramedic who treated Nash told the New York Times that he had "never seen anything this dramatic on a living patient.” Earlier this month, Davis underwent successful, 20-hour surgery—performed by 30 doctors—to give her a new face.

"The whole idea of anybody wanting to entertain keeping any wild animal is just an accident waiting to happen," said Carol Asvestas, director of Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, to the USA Today in 2009 after the Davis attack.

But back to Darwin: As monkeys get older, they tend to get more assertive. That can lead to trouble. “You start getting into competitions about ‘who’s in charge here,’ and then the animal becomes aggressive,” said Greg Tarry, a manager with the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, in the National Post. “And if that happens, you’ve got an animal without social skills unable to live in a society of primates who’s too aggressive to live with people.”

“You’ve basically got an animal with no future at all,” he said.

Here’s to a bright future for Darwin.

What do you think? Should he have been allowed to stay with the woman he has bonded with for months? Or is the sanctuary the answer—hard as it may be to transition? Tell us in the COMMENTS.

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