The Ikea monkey will not be returned to its owner, Yasmin Nakhuda, and will remain in an animal sanctuary following an Ontario judge's ruling.

The Japanese snow macaque named Darwin became an internet sensation after he was filmed and photographed running loose in the parking lot of an Ikea store in north Toronto in December.

The animal had escaped from a car parked in the lot wearing a stylish shearling coat and diapers.

Toronto animal services seized the monkey and sent him to the Story Book Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ont., 100 kilometres northeast of Toronto, setting off a legal battle with Nakhuda and the sanctuary over custody of Darwin.


Yasmin Nakhuda waged an unsuccessful court fight to regain custody of Darwin, arguing that animal services staff tricked her into surrendering custody of the Japanese macaque. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Nakhuda filed a civil suit against the sanctuary, which was dismissed by Friday's decision.

Justice Mary Vallee ruled the monkey is a wild animal and not a domestic pet. This was a key legal point in the case, as the law deems the owner of a wild animal as the party that possesses it.

She cited a 96-year-old court ruling that when a wild animal kept as a pet runs away, the owner loses the right to it.

"It wasn’t a child custody dispute," said Kevin Toyne, the lawyer for the sanctuary, "and animals are property, so it was the law of property that governed."

The judge rejected Nakhuda's argument that Toronto animal services staff duped her and acted illegally by seizing Darwin.

"Concerns about illegally imported monkey disease were good reasons to detain the monkey," Vallee said in her ruling.

In her ruling, which is posted at the bottom of this story, the judge also said Nakhuda purchased Darwin for $5,000 from an exotic animal dealer, knowing that it was illegal.

She also lied by telling the media the animal was a gift, the judge wrote in her ruling.

A Toronto bylaw prohibits the ownership of exotic pets, and Nakhuda was fined $250 when Darwin was seized.

"Ms. Nakhuda maintaining that the monkey was a gift shows that she was prepared to embellish the facts to improve her legal position," the judge wrote. "This undermines her credibility."

A lawyer for Story Brook owner Sherri Delaney said that Darwin will stay, at least for now, at the sanctuary, where he is interacting with other primates and receiving high-quality veterinary care.

Nakhuda's lawyer's office said she would not be commenting on the decision Friday.

How Nakhuda got the monkey

The judge's decision also reveals the circumstances of how Nakhuda, a real estate lawyer, came to own Darwin.

She approached an exotic pets dealer, named in the judge's decision only by his first name Ayaz, expressing interest in owning a monkey. He offered the macaque to her on a trial basis for free. Nakhuda soon had trouble controlling Darwin, who was prone to biting and screaming and would thrash around wildly when his diaper was changed.

In a bid to help, Ayaz came to Nakhuda's house and "taught Ms. Nakhuda to have a very firm hand with the monkey," according to the judge's decision.

"He grabbed the monkey hard by the throat and hit him in the side of the head. After this the monkey complied with having his diaper changed. Ms. Nakhuda was not comfortable with using this amount of physical force on the monkey."

Nakhuda tried to return Darwin to the dealer, but when the animal clung to her, she changed her mind, feeling an obligation to keep him, and paid the dealer $5,000.

"Ms. Nakhuda requested a receipt but Ayaz told her that he doesn't provide receipts or papers," the judge's decision reads. "Ms. Nakhuda understood she had purchased an 'illegal' animal."

When the story of Darwin's escape at Ikea broke in December, Nakhuda went to Ayaz for help in retrieving the monkey. Citing the intense media attention, he refused and advised her to walk away, promising to refund the $5,000.

"[Ayaz] said that he could not get involved in the matter, because he did not want any media attention," reads the judge's ruling. "A serious argument followed. Ayaz told Nakhuda that the best thing to do would be to forget about the monkey and walk away. He would refund the $5,000."