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The Sad Case of the ‘Ikea Monkey’

A Statement from Born Free USA

Published 12/26/12

Born Free USA has been following the case of the so-called “Ikea Monkey” named Darwin. This baby Japanese macaque, dressed in a faux-shearling, fitted coat, was found alone in the vastness of an Ikea store parking lot, in Toronto, during the Christmas shopping rush. Folks took photos that subsequently went viral on the Internet, and were featured in news stories around the world. Toronto, like many Canadian cities, has a law against keeping certain species of exotic animals as pets. Darwin’s owner was fined, and she signed little Darwin over to the city, from where he was moved to a primate sanctuary, north of the city.

The owner then sought an injunction to have Darwin returned, or for her to be granted visitation rights at the sanctuary until her lawsuit against the city and the sanctuary could be heard. Born Free USA was present at this hearing but will not discuss matters now before the court.

What we will say is that because we run a large sanctuary for several species of primates, most particularly including snow monkeys, we are all too familiar with well-meaning people who obtain cute baby monkeys who have been stolen from their real parents. These new “owners” believe they can raise them the “right” way. They can form strong, two-way social bonds with these baby monkeys, who instinctively bond with what they identify as a maternal primate.

The breeders of these animals are well aware of this phenomenon and take advantage of it to sell baby monkeys. Although each relationship can indeed be special and unique, humans, no matter how compassionate and dedicated, cannot properly fulfill the maternal role for an infant monkey. In trying to do so, they deny the infants of being reared by their natural natal group, or at least being raised in a breeding facility by one of their own kind.

Such baby primates, if removed from their new “mother” (or caregiver), can suffer separation anxiety to some degree. But since they cannot grow into humans, the longer they are separated from their own species, the more difficult it tends to become for them to adjust to the company of their own kind.

Tim Ajax, manager of our expansive sanctuary in Texas, has encountered many snow monkeys and other species of primates who were once adored and pampered as “babies” in peoples’ homes — perhaps, as he says, “fulfilling at some level their own emotional needs to be nurturing providers,” but not fully meeting the needs of the primate babies. They grow into strong, unruly adolescents and large adults who are impossible to manage and almost always dangerous. Baby Japanese macaques eventually grow large and strong. Provided they are not mutilated, a male's canines will grow long and sharp and the animals will pose a significant risk to humans and pets alike. Such animals typically end up in cages or backyard enclosures, severely limited in any possibility for having a reasonable quality of life.

At this point, because of their unnatural upbringing and lack of access to other monkeys, they will live alone the rest of their lives, without their behavioral needs being met.

“Based on my 20 years of captive primate experience,” reports Tim, “these animals will, on approaching sexual maturity, become aggressive, and being hard-wired to emigrate from their natal groups in search of new females with which to mate, will suffer significantly in their efforts to escape confinement. While they start out as infants at an age that allows freedom in a human environment, they soon outgrow that welcome, becoming highly destructive and aggressive.

“In a sanctuary setting they do have access to other monkeys and have the opportunity to engage in normal primate behavior while being ‘weaned’ from unnatural human interactions. Though they will live the rest of their lives in an enclosure, the constant presence of other monkeys will enrich their lives in ways that humans simply cannot replicate.”

Born Free USA strongly opposes keeping non-human primates as companion animals or pets, and fully supports regulations that guard against this unnecessary, dangerous and inhumane practice.

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