The owner of a monkey caught wandering outside a Toronto Ikea store on the weekend told CBC News Tuesday the tiny primate rarely left her side until he was confiscated by authorities — and she wants him back.
Yasmin Nakhuda spoke to CBC News in a 20-minute phone interview Tuesday about the primate that captured worldwide attention after he somehow let himself out of a parked car Sunday and ambled around the Ikea parking lot dressed in a fitted shearling coat.
Nakhuda, who was fined $240 for breaking the city's prohibited-animal bylaw, said she is consulting a lawyer to see if she can regain custody of the pet she considers part of her family.
She told CBC News she would consider allowing the monkey named Darwin to stay at the sanctuary if she can be convinced he’s being properly cared for.
At the very least, the Toronto real estate lawyer said she would like to be involved in his transition to the Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary, in Sunderland, Ont.
"If the sanctuary is able to convince me … that they are doing a better job, then for sure. Because everything has to be what’s best for him."
Nakhuda also told CBC how she first came to own Darwin.
A client who knew she loved exotic pets put her in touch with a man who offered to allow Nakhuda to babysit the monkey, which was apparently born in Montreal.
CBC asked Nakhuda whether she inquired about Darwin’s background and how he came to Canada. She said those questions "didn’t cross my mind."
"I don’t think he’s a person who sells monkeys," she told CBC News.
At first, Nakhuda and her husband found it "horrendous" caring for an animal that required almost constant attention, regular diaper changes and would often scream out the moment she left the room.
Nakhuda said she tried to return Darwin to the man, believing she was not able to properly care for him, but Darwin screamed the moment they were separated.
"The gentlemen who had him started laughing and said to me ‘well guess what? He has chosen you, you’re his mom.’"
Nakhuda then decided to care for Darwin on a permanent basis, taking him to restaurants and other public places and adjusting her work schedule to meet the considerable demands of his care.
"The fun part was the day we sneaked into the CNE [Canadian National Exhibition]
with him," she told CBC. "And we had fun and he was there in my little baby carrier and nobody knew there was a little monkey in there."
Darwin also became a fan of visiting a local sandwich shop, according to Nakhuda.
"Whenever he would see the Quiznos sign he would go crazy, he would start standing on the dashboard of the car," she said. "And jump up and down fast."
Nakhuda also said Sunday wasn’t the first time Darwin had been to Ikea. She tried to take him inside the store on a previous visit but was asked to leave by staff who cited the store's no-pets policy.
Nakhuda, who also owns two exotic birds, told CBC News she was surprised that Darwin was able to escape so easily on Sunday.
"I didn’t know he would be able to open his crate and the car door. I thought he was safe in the crate and in a locked car," she said.
Nakhuda said she's concerned about Darwin’s well-being at the sanctuary.
"I have a lot of pain and suffering. But it’s not about me, it’s about Darwin. How is he feeling? How is he dealing with all this stress?"
Animal services spokeswoman Mary Lou Leiher said Monday that Darwin was suffering from stress but is otherwise fine.
But Nakhuda challenged that assessment. During her interview with CBC News she spoke repeatedly about her love for Darwin.
"There was no harm, it was all love," she said.
She also questioned the animal services department's description of Darwin as a five-month-old rhesus monkey, instead identifying him as a Japanese macaque that she has owned for more than five months.
A video Nakhuda posted on YouTube and titled "Darwin Kiss" shows the stylish simian interacting with a woman described as his "mom." The monkey is dressed in a light blue striped onesie embellished with metal studs.
Another clip shows the monkey wearing a diaper while roughhousing with a shaggy off-white dog.