Since surrendering Darwin the IKEA monkey to a primate sanctuary last December, Yasmin Nakhuda has been in court twice, trying to bring the wee fella home. This weekend, the real-estate lawyer will launch the first in a proposed 12-volume collection of children’s books starring a certain shearling coat–sporting superstar. We talked to her about Darwin’s escape, IKEA, and the shocking intelligence of Japan’s licensed monkey waiters.
So last December you were just minding your business, shopping in IKEA. When did you realize your monkey had gotten out?
We were coming back to the car and we saw that the door was open. We had locked it, so what we think is that he either unlocked the door by jumping around or he knew how to unlock the door. He was in a cage and he unlocked that, too, so that’s two things we didn’t realize he could do. He is very smart.
How did you wind up with a Japanese macaque monkey in the first place?
A client put me in touch with someone who had exotic animals in Toronto, including monkeys, which is what I was interested in. I met with this gentleman and he asked me what kind of monkey I was looking for. I had read about the Japanese snow macaque. I thought it would be a good choice because they are happy in cold climates. He called me two days later and he had one.
As a lawyer, you must have known that your pet isn’t legal in Ontario, right?
I can’t comment on that because I’m still in court.
Okay. Before Darwin’s sudden fame, you were having a lot of trouble with him—he was biting people and you yourself called him a “time bomb.” Why do you want him back so badly?
That was taken totally out of context. What happened is that I was having trouble with Darwin, so I found a website for monkey training. I wrote an email explaining the various issues I was having. It’s like when you go to a doctor—you’re not going to talk about all the good things, you’re going to talk about your headache or whatever the problem is. I did mention that Darwin was biting. I just wanted some help, but the reaction from the woman who runs the website was very negative. I was frustrated and upset, and yes, I did say I was going to give Darwin away, but I didn’t mean it.
What do you miss most about Darwin?
We were together all the time. We woke up together, we brushed our teeth together. He came to work with me—he was like an extension of me. It’s very difficult when I think about him living by himself, alone in a cage with nobody to hug him and hold him.
What about the assertion that when pets like Darwin reach maturity they can become dangerous and difficult to care for?
I will answer that by directing you to Google “monkey waiter Japanese snow macaque waiter.” There are actually Japanese snow macaques who are licensed working waiters at a restaurant in Japan. They are not on leashes, they’re not attacking anybody, they are very intelligent. It makes me wonder what Darwin could be. He has so much potential.
Were you surprised when Darwin became an overnight icon?
Not at all. Darwin has always had star quality. When I used to bring him to the office, all of the tenants would line up just to see him or get a picture with him. He has always attracted a lot of attention.
Can you tell me about the Darling Darwin Monkey Friends & Co. foundation?
Yes—it is a not-for-profit fundraising organization that was recently started by supporters and friends of Darwin. The goal is to help protect and offer support to owners of exotic pets. We are hoping to be able to build a sanctuary so that if owners want to go out or go away, there is somewhere they can leave their monkey in good hands.
You have also written a book about Darwin to help with fundraising efforts.
Yes, it’s called Adventures of Darling Darwin: Monkey Mess. I got the idea when I was looking out at the snow and thinking about how much fun Darwin would have playing in it. The proceeds from the book will go towards funding my litigation and the appeal, if we need to do that.
I noticed in the cover illustration that IKEA is called AEKI. I guess they didn’t want to be involved?
No, actually, we have never talked to IKEA about it. I’m sure there would have been a legal issue anyway, but I didn’t want to have IKEA in the book. I think they should have paged inside to tell customers that there was a monkey in the parking lot rather than calling animal services. Also, when we took Darwin there in the past, they escorted us out because of their no-pet policy. Of course, that’s fine, but they didn’t want Darwin in there, so he is not an IKEA monkey. I’m hoping that name will go away at some point.
Person you’d most like to meet?
The Darling Darwin Monkey Friends & Co. Launch Party takes place April 6 at the Manchurian Madurai Boat House Banquet Hall, 1855 Dundas St. E., #3, Mississauga, darlingdarwinmonkey.com.