How I got to know the “Ikea” Monkey

Why primates don't make good pets  

 In December of 2012 a Japanese macaque infant was found wondering the parking lot of a Toronto Ikea.  He was dressed in a coat and wearing a diaper and far from his native home of Japan. 


This scared little monkey was taken to animal services and eventually they called Storybook Farm Primate Sanctuary to see if they could take him, his owner had surrendered him, as it’s illegal to have a monkey as a pet in Toronto.  This little monkey’s name was Darwin and he would become very famous.
    Through a long and drawn out court hearing between Darwin’s previous owner and the Sanctuary, the Sanctuary ended up being awarded custody of Darwin.  
    I have been volunteering at Storybook Farms Primate Sanctuary for almost 4 years.  Throughout my time there I have heard the stories of how our residents came to us and seen how they have improved through enrichment and care.  
    Darwin arrived when I been a volunteer for only about 8 months.  I remember how small and shy he was and bonded strongly with a few of the volunteers.  He is now 3 years old and 3 times the size he was when he came to us.  That little coat would no longer fit him, and he would not need it anyways, as his thick fur is meant to protect him from the cold Japanese winters up in the mountains.  He is very strong, bouncing around his enclosure and enjoys hanging outside in the snow.  He likes to pinch and grab volunteers as they clean around his enclosure.


    Darwin would not make a good pet, he is not even full grown, yet is stronger then most people.  His canines will be a few inches long and very powerful.  Most importantly he is a wild animal, he has not been domesticated over thousands of years like dogs and cats.  Domestication does not happen when you put a coat and a diaper on a wild animal.  It is a long process of breeding animals with the right disposition to create one that is tame and comfortable around humans.  Even though dogs are domesticated there are still many instances of dog’s attacking people.  
    Unfortunately due to Darwin’s previous owner’s selfish needs to own a monkey as a pet, Darwin was ripped from his macaque mother, resulting in trauma for both him and her.  While studying baboons in Kenya I observed a mother carrying around her dead infant all day with her, even though this made it more difficult to walk and forage for food.  Even though I can’t scientifically say she was mourning, it was hard not to draw that conclusion from her actions.  Monkey mothers bond strongly to their infants, just like human mothers do.  A monkey mother is not just going to give up her infant.  This also results in trauma for the infant, as they lose the warmth, comfort and sustenance their mother provides.    


    Darwin will now have to live his entire life in captivity because of the selfish decisions of the woman who wanted him as a pet.  This ends up being the case for thousands of exotic and wild animals that become part of the exotic pet trade.  Unfortunately Ontario does not have laws making exotic animal ownership illegal, it is down to the municipalities to pass by-laws.  This results in a patchwork of cities where most exotic animals are illegal and a lot of rural areas where there are not any by-laws.  If you want to see exotic animal ownership made illegal in Ontario, please contact your local MPP.  
    I hope we don’t have to bring any more “Ikea” monkeys to the sanctuary in the near future.  Primate Tales is hoping to help this issue by educating students that primates do not make good pets and that they belong in the wild, not dressed up in clothes and diapers.  Having a monkey as a pet is like having an infant for 40 years that could kill you.  I don’t think anyone wants that.

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