You remember Darwin, right? That adorable, coat-wearing, little monkey found wandering alone in the parking lot of a Canadian Ikea captured the hearts of social media users everywhere. Well, it looks like Darwin the “Ikea Monkey” will not be returned to his owner, according to a recent Canadian court ruling.
Last winter, Darwin escaped from a locked crate in a car. Ontario Superior Court Judge Mary Vallee ruled that, once the monkey made his escape, his caretaker Yasmin Nakhuda no longer had any claim of ownership. Darwin, a macaque, is a ”wild animal,” and that’s important to the decision:
“(Case law) states that the nature of an animal, rather than how it is treated, determines whether it is wild,” Vallee wrote in her decision.
“The monkey lived in Ms. Nakhuda’s house. He wore clothing. For a time, he slept in Ms. Nakhuda’s bed. These attempts at domestication were imposed on him.”
Attempts may have been made to domesticate Darwin, but it didn’t really take. Darwin bit people and had to wear a diaper because he couldn’t be potty trained. In addition, the monkey spent most of the time in a harness so he couldn’t run away. Even though he wore clothes and sometimes slept in Nakhuda’s bed, Darwin is definitely a wild animal. According to the law as it stands, a wild animal is only owned by someone as long as the animal is in that person’s possession.
This might seem severe since Darwin lived with Nakhuda for months. The problem, however, is that Darwin isn’t a dog, cat or some other animal that has been widely domesticated. It’s very important for the owner of such a pet to be in control, wrote Judge Vallee.
“A high onus regarding provision of secure housing for wild animals is appropriate to place on their owners,” her decision reads. “Wild animals, particularly exotic ones, can be dangerous to the public.”
Macaques are known disease carriers and are prohibited animals in Sunderland, about 100 km north of Toronto, where Darwin was found.
The fact that Darwin is a wild animal can get lost in the shuffle. He was wearing clothes and has a cute name. Plus, monkeys kind of look like people. Humans are primate, too, after all. But Darwin isn’t a person. He’s a monkey and deserves to be around other monkeys like him.
Sadly, this case wasn’t about the best interests of Darwin. The monkey, Judge Vallee wrote, is a piece of chattel. The case was about who owned Darwin once he escaped. It’s a crude way of thinking about it. Personally, it’s hard for me to look into the eyes of any primate and see something that I can own. But Vallee has a point: Darwin isn’t a human child, and we treat animals differently from humans.
Darwin will stay for the time being at Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary, the same place he’s lived since he was seized by animal services. While it’s too bad that Darwin was taken away, this is probably for the best. I think we have a collective habit of anthropomorphizing animals. This is to be expected; none of us have any experience living as anything but a person.
However, we need to remember that animals aren’t people and have different needs. If we’re going to respect and take care of our fellow creatures, we shouldn’t forget that.
Photo Credit: CNN