Written By: Heather Clemenceau
The discovery of Darwin, a juvenile macaque found wandering the Toronto IKEA store parking lot in a shearling coat, has divided various groups on the internet. As most Torontonians already know, the “IKEA Monkey” was taken from the store by Toronto Animal Services and ultimately placed at Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ontario. Story Book takes in such lost souls—monkeys who have been commandeered for lab research or just dumped by roadside zoos. Bravo to Story Book Farm!
You’d be wrong in thinking that Darwin’s case was straightforward, even though it’s illegal to own a non-human primate in Toronto. It’s also generally frowned upon to leave an exotic animal in a car in winter while shopping. In response, defenders of exotic animal ownership, property rights, and various other asshats and wingnuts have laid siege to Story Book Farm in an attempt to discredit them. Darwin has lawyered-up, or rather his former owner Yasmin Nakhuda has launched a lawsuit as well.
Such tactics include, but are not limited to sending a petition to Brock Township councillors accusing
Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary of animal cruelty. The petition, with some 116 typed “signatures,” was hand-delivered to council members’ homes early January, calls for municipal officials to launch a “full investigation” on the sanctuary’s operation. It’s not known whether they actually have any evidence, not that that would be a deterrent for some of these people. And is anyone else bothered by the fact that the petitions were delivered to the councillor’s private HOMES? Brock Township Mayor Terry Clayton stipulated that the “petition will have no bearing on the licensing process” for Story Book Farm. Brad Dewar, spokesperson for the OSPCA, said that the petition had not been delivered to the association’s office. The OSPCA can’t begin an investigation without first interviewing a witness to the alleged misconduct, he said. “Petitions are great for identifying concerns, but from an investigation standpoint, we need eyewitnesses to come forward to engage in an investigation,” he said. Herein lies the problem for the signers of the petition – have any of them been to the sanctuary or seen any cruelty? Furthermore, could a lawyer (Nakhuda) be disciplined if any statements in the petition linked to or co-signed by her were found to be blatantly false even if she did not make them herself? Inquiring minds want to know!
I can’t imagine what “cruelty” these detractors think is happening at Story Book. But that’s really a rhetorical question, since facts make strange bedfellows for them. What would be the alternative for Darwin or any other monkey that is seized or surrendered in Ontario? My personal belief is that NO MATTER WHERE Darwin was sent, the exotics breeders and owners would DESCEND with malice aforethought on that sanctuary just as they have with Story Book. When Darwin was collected from his mis-adventure in the IKEA parking lot, Toronto Animal Services temporarily housed him in a standard pet carry-all sized cage with barking dogs and other animals in the vicinity. Without such sanctuary placements, the alternative is to warehouse “pet” monkeys, which the majority of zoos will not accept, or euthanize them outright. And is it cruel for a monkey to have to wear diapers its entire life so that it can be accommodated in a household with people?
A posting on the Facebook page – “Darling Darwin Monkey” indicated that the petition had been
delivered to the Township, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA), and the Charities Directorate of the Canadian Revenue Agency, requesting “an investigation in several allegations of cruelty, hoarding, manipulation, lack of experience and abuse of their charitable status by the Sanctuary.” In other words, they’ve thrown some monkey shit up against the wall in hoping something will stick. Do lawyers even know what evidence is in this day and age? But Yasmin Nakhuda is a real estate lawyer, not exactly at the top of the legal food-chain. The Facebook page is frequented by supporters of Darwin’s former owner Nakhuda as well as animal advocates who know that Darwin is a wild animal who will exhibit behavioural changes once he reaches sexual maturity.
Aside from these unsubstantiated claims by the supporters of exotic pet ownership, it’s apparent that none of them see any shame in supporting the exotic trade of animals such as Darwin, who was uprooted from his mother after only a few weeks, to be bottle-fed by Yasmin while wearing diapers. The juveniles of many monkey species live with their mothers for up to two
years. The precarious state of primates in the illegal pet trade bring up the issues of animal ethics, ecosystem health and many conservation issues. When people illegally source monkeys from the animal trade they do not recognize or care that this is all it takes to support the illegal pet trade. The “trade” threatens a great number of endangered and vulnerable species. A monkey is not a child. I very much sympathize with Nakhuda’s emotional position, but Darwin is a wild animal who needs the company of his own and other primate species – to claim that any monkey is better suited to living its life in diapers with humans, forced to adapt to human culture, is baseless anthropomorphization.
Apart from calling attention to the various dirty-tricks campaigns currently underway, I’m most interested throwing some shade on the belief that monkeys make good pets or that they are suddenly domesticated after one or two generations. I’ll drop a flat “no” on both of those claims.
Monkeys carry Cercopithecine herpesvirus, which is transmissible to humans and stays with you for life. This form of herpesvirus simiae can cause fatal encephalitis in people if they’ve been bitten by a monkey carrier. You also don’t want to get bitten by a monkey under any circumstances, because they have sharp teeth and they often attack the face or ears, where there are lots of blood vessels located very close to the brain. A paper co-authored by people from the CDC (Ostrowski et al, Emerging Infectious Diseases 1998) states clearly “The extremely high prevalence of B-virus along with their behavioral characteristics make the macaque species unsuitable as pets.” PetWatch (a program of EcoHealth Alliance) ranks macaques as “Worst Choice Pet.”
The idea that humans immediately “tame” an animal born into captivity is misleading. Wolves originally kept by humans as companions were turned into “dogs” by selectively breeding the tame animals. Humans bred the animals that reacted well to humans, and did not breed animals that were aggressive or ran away. What was not realized at the time was that we were assisted in turning wolves into dogs because behaviour in animals is a heritable trait, like intelligence.
Geneticist George Price, of Price’s Theorem fame, defined domestication as a process by which a
population of animals becomes adapted to man and the environment as a result of genetic mutation, neurochemical changes, and environmentally induced developmental changes. In long-term selection experiments designed to study the consequences of selection for the “tame” domesticated type of behaviour, Belyaev et al. (1981) studied foxes reared for their fur. The red fox (Vulpes fulva) has been raised on seminatural fur farms for over 100 years and was selected for fur traits and not behavioural traits. The objective of this experiment was to breed animals similar in behaviour to the domestic dog. By selecting and breeding the tamest individuals, 20 years later the experiment succeeded in turning wild foxes into tame “dogs.”
While Price and Belyaev were refining the principles of conditioning on animals, ethology – the study of the way genes are modified during evolution to deal with particular environments, was a developing science. Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen cataloged the behaviour of many animals in their natural environments. Together they developed the ethogram. An ethogram is a complete listing of all the behaviours that an animal performs in its natural environment. It includes both innate and learned behaviours – hard-wired programs versus experience and learning. People intent on returning Darwin to a home-based environment don’t seem to know or wish to acknowledge that even animals with large, complex brains are still governed by innate behaviour patterns. As these studies have shown, instantaneous pets are not created via short-term human influence, regardless of whether dog or monkey is the subject matter.
Kari Bagnall, the CEO of Jungle Friends, gave testimony on the Ohio exotics Senate Bill 310. She couldn’t come to Columbus, so it was submitted as written testimony. Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, located on 12 acres in Gainesville, Florida. Jungle Friends is accredited by the American Sanctuary Association and The Association of Sanctuaries. The Ohio law will ban new ownership of specific wild animals, including big cats, bears, hyenas, gray wolves, some primates, alligators and crocodiles – all animals that exotics people feel they automatically have the right to own without restriction. The Bill will also require owners of restricted species to obtain liability insurance or surety bonds for $200,000 to $1 million, and mandate criminal-background checks of current exotic-animal owners seeking permits. Please read Kari Bagnall’s very compelling testimony describing the circumstances by which monkeys came to her sanctuary; I reproduce it here with permission from Ms. Bagnall herself:
What eludes me is the “logic” involved in attacking the sanctuary, which did nothing wrong and certainly did not steal him nor let the latch on the car loose so he could escape. For some reason, humans feel entltled to raise babies in unnatural circumstances. Darwin’s sad case has served to highlight the fact that he is not just a meme, an IKEA monkey, but a macaque capable of living to his fullest potential in a more natural environment. We need to educate others and create awareness of illegal pets who need to live their lives as non-human apes.