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Darwin the Ikea monkey is thriving at an Ontario sanctuary 11 years after viral sensation: 'Big happy boy'

Eleven years ago this December, a Japanese macaque monkey in a tiny shearling coat became a viral sensation

Eleven years ago this December, a Japanese macaque monkey in a tiny shearling coat became a viral sensation after being found wandering a Toronto-area Ikea parking lot.

The so-called Ikea Monkey is actually named Darwin and has gone from being "in a bad way" when he was handed over to Toronto Animal Services in 2012, to a "big happy boy" during his time at a primate sanctuary in Sunderland, Ont.

The case gripped the nation — and the world — as his original owner, Yasmin Nakhuda, took her case to Ontario Superior Court in an attempt to retrieve ownership of him. The case ruled in favour of Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary.

What happened to Ikea monkey Darwin?

Rachelle Hansen is the board director of Story Book Farm and has been volunteering with the sanctuary since 2007. She clearly remembers the day Darwin was brought to the sanctuary.

Volunteer Rachelle Hansen plays with Darwin who's a Japanese Macaque at the Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ont., on Tuesday, August 16, 2016. Darwin was famous for being named the Ikea Monkey. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Volunteer Rachelle Hansen plays with Darwin who's a Japanese Macaque at the Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ont., on Tuesday, August 16, 2016. Darwin was famous for being named the Ikea Monkey. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

“Poor little guy was in a bad way,” she tells Yahoo Canada. “He had a diaper rash and was on a harness that was choking him.”

Since Darwin had been habituated to a human type of mothering, Hansen and another volunteer were assigned to be his “moms.” While they didn’t know his exact age, the sanctuary assumed he was around six months — the jacket he was famously found in was meant for babies up to three months old.

These days, Hansen describes Darwin as a “big happy boy” who weighs 30 pounds, though he’s "very shy." Upon first arriving at his new home, he formed a bond with two baboons, Sweet Pea and Pierre, who became his mentors.

“Pierre really taught him how to be a monkey, and all the monkey etiquette,” Hansen says.

That socialization seems to be working. Chiquita, another Japanese macaque that was recently brought to the sanctuary, has been placed next to Darwin’s enclosure, in an attempt to help her feel comfortable.

“They talk to each other, which is very sweet,” she says.

When it comes to what brings Darwin joy, Hansen says he loves eating egg salad sandwiches and is happiest when he’s swinging on a firehose. Ever since he was first brought to the sanctuary, Darwin has been obsessed with Curious George, whether it's watching the movie or cuddling up with his Curious George stuffy.

“It’s interesting how a human will be drawn to something,” she says. “It’s the same with monkeys. They’re drawn to different things.”

Darwin the Ikea monkey: 'He was supposed to be in the wild'

Hansen, who works in learning and development at a law firm, admits that Darwin’s fame has brought a lot of attention to the sanctuary over the years, with some people still questioning why he was taken away from his original owner.

“That’s not exactly what happened,” she says of the case. “It was very precedent setting at the time."

At the time of his escape, Darwin’s owner Nakhuda signed him over to Toronto Animal Services, allowing them legal ownership of the monkey. That move ultimately didn’t work in her favour in Ontario Superior Court, which ruled that that by signing the TAS form, Nakhuda understood she was transferring ownership of the monkey to the city.

Yasmin Nakhuda stands with supporters outside an Animal Services offices in Toronto on Wednesday December 19, 2012 as she rallies support for the return of her monkey which was seized earlier this month after it was found wandering at an Ikea parking lot. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Yasmin Nakhuda stands with supporters outside an Animal Services offices in Toronto on Wednesday December 19, 2012 as she rallies support for the return of her monkey which was seized earlier this month after it was found wandering at an Ikea parking lot. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

The court also reasoned that Nakhuda had initially lost ownership of the monkey — which it deemed a wild animal as opposed to a domestic one — when she lost possession of him in the Ikea parking lot.

All these years later, Hansen still gets emotional remembering her first meeting with Darwin and all that he’s been through.

“When I look back at the little guy who came to us, scared with a diaper rash and this terrible harness he could hardly breathe in, that’s not the life he was supposed to live,” she says. “He was supposed to be in the wild but sadly that choice was taken away from him by humans a very long time ago. But the fact that they have joy and each other and they’re allowed to be who they’re supposed to be, that is really important.”

For those wishing to visit Darwin and his friends, Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary is open to the public once a month between May and October.

It’s interesting how a human will be drawn to something ... It’s the same with monkeys. They’re drawn to different things.