by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
First take on the Ikea Monkey Trial
I am guessing that Yasmin Nakhuda has never heard of "acquisitive mimetic desire", even though she displayed it to an absurd degree, thus contributing to an odious form of animal abuse: the exotic pet trade. It's the desire to have something because someone else has it, and is often used by advertising agencies and marketers to push products that people don't really need.
I sat just behind Nakhuda last week, as she sobbed nearing the end of a trial she had instigated. She had gone to court seeking to reacquire "Darwin", the baby Japanese macaque whose image was flashed on You Tube and on TV screens and newspapers internationally when he appeared in a faux-shearling coat in an Ikea parking lot in Toronto, last winter. He was dubbed "the Ikea Monkey". Nakhuda was crying because lawyer Kevin Toyne, defending the Story Book Farm primate sanctuary, suggested she had known what she was doing in signing Darwin over. The primate sanctuary was where Darwin was taken after being rescued by Toronto Animal Services (TAS). TAS is designed to deal with dogs and cats, not monkeys. Once ownership had been transferred it cleared the way to place Darwin in the sanctuary.
I've not been to Story Book, but I know that it is in its early stages of development, heading toward the high standards we have set with our own primate sanctuary, in Texas. Story Book, now housing 25 primates, needs support, but instead all Nakhuda's followers have done, is criticize it, without actually seeing it for themselves. Sadly, the law prohibits sending these rescued primates into the U.S., but that does not prevent real humanitarians, like the good folks at Story Book, from doing their best. As is true with our, much larger, sanctuary, many of their animals are former exotic pets who became too much for their owners to handle.
Even though she is a lawyer specializing in real estate, thus property rights, Nakhuda claimed she was tricked or coerced into signing the animal over. David Behan, the gently-spoken TAS officer in charge on the Sunday that Darwin escaped from where he had been locked in a dog kennel, in Nakhuda's car in the Ikea parking lot, denied it. Given how often Nakhuda changed her story I would be inclined to believe Behan, a decent chap just trying to do his job. An unhealthy man nearing retirement, he didn't look to me like he could intimidate a chipmunk. Behan's supervisor, phoned at home, told the officer to try to get Nakhuda to sign Darwin over. He did, but no evidence was presented to show he forced her to do so.
There is a real question about the form itself, which is badly written. It, and the bylaw in question, are to be updated to prevent any such confusion in the future. But none of that prevented Nakhuda from just saying "no", although she still could not have legally kept Darwin in Toronto. She claims she now has an offer on a house in one community that allows keeping of human primates, conditional on her winning the case. That community, Kawartha Lakes, plans to pass its own legislation to prevent the keeping of primates.
Throughout this mess Nakhuda constantly has referred to Darwin as her son, her baby. But he had a real mother who has been forgotten in all this. There are two ways that baby primates enter the exotic pet trade: in the wild it is normally the result of the mother being killed and the baby stolen. Otherwise she fiercely holds on to her baby. In captivity the baby is simply forced from the mother, against her will. But her emotional trauma didn't seem to touch Nakhuda or her small but loyal band of supporters.
We know nothing of Darwin's origins before he showed up in a filthy diaper, harness and doll-sized coat at the Ikea parking lot. At first Nakhuda said she had been given Darwin on the street in Montreal. That was later changed to a dealer in Toronto she met while looking to buy a hyacinth macaw. After swearing an affidavit that Darwin was a "gift" she admitted that, well, no, the dealer wanted ten thousand dollars, in cash, but settled for five up front. Oh, but he said he'd give it back, making Darwin a "gift" to Nakhuda's weird way of thinking. He actually never has returned the money. Some gift.
And why, while looking for an endangered parrot to buy, did Nakhuda purchase a baby macaque? The dealer didn't have a hyacinth macaw handy, but he had a couple of monkey species, one a capuchin. They're cute. Ah, but no; Yasmin had seen a You-Tube video from showing a Japanese macaque in Japan, the only country where they naturally occur, taught to do simple waiting chores in a restaurant. Wow, a monkey acting like a waiter…that was all the reason she needed! Talk about an acquisitive mimetic desire…and I thought guys who thought they could pick up sexy dates if they drank the right brand of beer were pushovers!
Within a couple of days, voila, from Vancouver or Montreal or who knows where, suddenly there is a baby Japanese macaque, no questions asked. No documentation, either. No health certificate. No receipt. No concerns. Any problems about Darwin being a species it is illegal to keep in Toronto and the dealer would wave his magic permit. But when the excrement hit the rotating blades he didn't, telling Yasmin to "walk away", according to her testimony, and he'd return the cash. Yeah, sure.
As I write, the judge is determining whether Darwin can stay at the sanctuary, or must be returned to Yasmin, no doubt to be dressed in silly clothes and, who knows...maybe wait on her table in her new home in Kawartha Lakes? The judge is constrained by the law. Because of the bizarre nature of the case, and its look into the sordid world of the exotic pet industry, I'll return to this issue in future blogs.