The IKEA Monkey Story? It’s Complicated.

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 12 2012 3:06 PM

The IKEA Monkey Story? It’s Complicated.

Ikea_Monkey
The Japanese macaque known as Darwin shocked IKEA shoppers on Sunday

Bronwyn Iler Page

After photos of a rhesus macaque wearing a shearling coat and a diaper in a Canada IKEA hit the web Sunday, the Internet went crazy, crafting meme after meme of the adorable animal.* But enterprising reporters have at the Globe and Mail in Toronto have sussed out the story of the stylish rogue, and it’s more complicated than a series of witty JPEGs might lead you to believe.

The monkey, as much of the world now knows, is named Darwin, and he’s seven months old. His owner is Yasmin Nakhuda, who allegedly purchased the monkey in Montreal, where ambiguous regulations allow individual boroughs to set restrictions on prohibited animals. Toronto, where the IKEA is located, prohibits the possession of non-human primates, but, prior to the IKEA incident, Nakhuda made a series of YouTube videos starring her pet, including this now popular footage of Darwin brushing his teeth.

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After Darwin was found alone at the IKEA, Nakhuda was fined $240 and Darwin was sequestered in the Story Brook Farm Primate Sanctuary. (According to Toronto Animal Services, the rhesus macaque can bear strains of herpes.) Nakhuda is furious with this, and wrote to the Globe and Mail to express her concern for her pet.

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... For now Darwin needs my back. And I need him back.

“Is anyone at the sanctuary willing to have Darwin on their backs for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week?” Nakhuda, who believes that Darwin is actually a Japanese macaque, asked. In addition to sleeping with Darwin on her back, she claims to have showered with him—Japanese macaques (also called snow monkeys) famously bathe in hot springs during the winter to keep warm. Her motherly concern also mimics the matrilineal culture of macaques. In response, the Story Brook Primate Sanctuary fired back by launching a “Dollars for Darwin” campaign to support their care of the monkey, illustrated with an imaginary first-person endorsement from the young primate: “I am so happy to finally be able to live and act like a real monkey!

But how would a Japanese macaque make it to Montreal in the first place? The species (Macaca fuscata) is native to islands off the coast of Japan—and the only study site for the species in North America is in Laredo, Texas. Varied state laws continue to divide primate pet possession restrictions in the United States, though recent horror stories—such as the 200 lb. pet chimpanzee that brutally maimed Charla Nash in February 2009—have provoked intense discussions about the danger of keeping primates as pets.* Cute as Darwin may be, those discussions should probably continue.

*Correction: The post originally stated that Darwin was a Japanese macaque because owner Nakhuda believes her pet is a Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata). However, Toronto Animal Services has called it a rhesus macaque. Also, it was incorrectly stated that chimpanzee victim Charla Nash was the primate's owner; she was in fact the owner's friend.