TORONTO - The baby monkey found wandering outside a Toronto Ikea store this weekend was so attached to his owner he'd have panic attacks whenever she was out of sight, a woman who considered him part of her family said Tuesday.
Yasmin Nakhuda said she's concerned about the tiny primate's well-being and is consulting a lawyer to see if she can regain custody of the "pet" she called Darwin.
However, the head of the monkey sanctuary Darwin was sent to by Toronto Animal Services on Monday said the mischievous simian was adjusting well to his new home.
"He's not mourning his human mother at all," said Sherri Delaney of the Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ont., about 100 kilometres northeast of Toronto.
"He is not showing signs of stress — signs of stress might appear in the form of his hiding or huddled in a ball, whimpering," she said during one of her numerous media interviews Tuesday.
"He's not doing that. He's happy."
Delaney said she intends to call Nakhuda and update her on Darwin's condition once she gets "five minutes" of free time. But Delaney vowed the sanctuary would fight any potential legal challenges over Darwin.
Nakhuda said she initially tried to return the monkey to the breeder who supplied him, but changed her mind after hearing his heartbroken cries.
After that, she said the monkey was near her at all times, including while she slept and showered.
"At the beginning, I was told that was the best for him because generally, monkeys live off the back of the mom," she said.
"He always had to be within my view."
The young monkey 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.
He was eventually captured by animal control officers, who fined Nakhuda $240 for breaking the city's prohibited-animal bylaw.
Legal experts said the Toronto woman would likely face an uphill battle if she went to court to regain ownership of the animal. An animal services spokeswoman said control of Darwin was voluntarily surrendered by Nakhuda, and that he is now the property of the primate sanctuary.
Lesli Bisgould, who teaches animal law at the University of Toronto law school, said legal action could hinge upon what exactly was agreed to when Nakhuda gave the monkey to animal services.
"Who's to say to what they all agreed to and what implications (that could) have?" asked Bisgould.
"The No. 1 concern is what's in the best interest of the animal," she said, adding a court challenge should centre on what's good for the monkey, not who owns him.
"The best thing for this animal was not to come into (human) contact in the first place. And now here he is," Bisgould said.
Nakhuda said at the very least she would like to be involved in Darwin's transition to a new life at the primate sanctuary. She said Darwin has shown signs in the past of disliking his own kind.
Sanctuary head Delaney said she's not ruling out letting Nakhuda come visit, but said whether that happens depends on how the Toronto real estate lawyer handles the separation.
"Her behaviour is going to govern how we react to her" in deciding if they'll let her see Darwin, Delaney said.
She said Darwin is in the process of being transitioned into a more normal life with the sanctuary's 22 other monkeys. Delaney added that the speed of his reintegration is being assessed a day at a time.
Nakhuda has questioned animal service'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.
The primate sanctuary launched a campaign on the fundraising website Indiegogo on Tuesday, to help cover the cost of tending to Darwin.
"I am so happy to finally be able to live and act like a real monkey," a letter on the website mock-written by Darwin states.
"Story Book farm did not expect to get me for Christmas and we could desperately use funds to help pay for my care as well as the other amazing monkey friends I have made," it says.
— With files from Paola Loriggio.
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