Ikea monkey transferred to primate sanctuary

A five-month-old monkey that became an internet sensation after it was photographed running around the parking lot of a Toronto Ikea store is now in the care of a southern Ontario primate sanctuary.

The monkey, originally from Montreal, began trending on social media and became the subject of international news stories shortly after it was spotted by shoppers on Sunday afternoon. Images of the monkey, photographed wearing a stylish shearling coat and diapers, made the animal an instant media celebrity.

The five-month-old monkey was taken to the Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary, in Sunderland, Ont., Monday afternoon after being kept overnight at an animal shelter following his seizure Sunday by Toronto Animal Services officers.

Sanctuary president Sherri Delaney said he would be paired up with a "motherly" monkey and get some company when two female rhesus monkeys arrive in the coming weeks at the sanctuary, which currently holds 22 primates.

She said he won't be seeing his double-breasted shearling coat any time soon as he becomes acclimatized to living more naturally with his fellow monkeys.

Mary Lou Leiher, with the city's animal services department, said Darwin is in "good health" but that it was also a "stressful time" for him. She said he will not be returned to his previous owners, who have not been identified.

"We want to make sure he goes to a place where they’re knowledgeable about how to care for him," Leiher said. "He's a baby, he's a little bit sensitive."

Leiher said she paid the monkey a brief visit, adding he was "very quiet" and didn't show any signs of personality — a sign of distress.

She said the incident illustrates why people should not attempt to own exotic pets, which often have special needs.

“This is why we have a bylaw against keeping prohibited animals in the city. The animal’s safety was at risk and the public was at risk.”

Leiher said the monkey's former owners co-operated with transferring ownership of the animal to the city. They were fined $240, but will not face criminal charges.

"They understand that the incident that occurred yesterday wasn’t appropriate," she said.

The monkey was first spotted by shoppers at 2 p.m. ET as they headed into an Ikea store near Leslie Street and Highway 401.

One of the first on the scene was Bronwyn Page, an associate producer for CBC. She was heading into the furniture retailer to do some holiday shopping with her sister when she noticed a crowd gathered around what she at first thought was some kind of child's toy.

When she got close, Page saw that it was a tiny monkey wearing a shearling coat and a diaper.

Page told the story on CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Monday.

"We saw a crowd of people surrounding a small animal, and we quickly realized it was a monkey wearing a coat and a diaper. That was pretty bizarre," she told host Matt Galloway.

"It was running between people. They were trying to call it towards them. It was really scared. They were trying to get away from cars. We realized it didn’t belong to any of those people.

“It was disbelief at first," said Page. "We thought it was a fake toy monkey. It was very unexpected to see it at Ikea. It seemed nervous. It was coming to anyone. It seemed pretty scared. There was a lot of people around. It was doing some monkey screaming, like jungle noises.”

Page took a few pictures of the monkey, and was among the first to send those images out via Twitter about an hour after first spotting the monkey in the parking lot.

“I thought maybe this is newsworthy, but I didn’t think it was gonna be such a big deal," she said.

Staff at the store quickly contacted animal control, and the monkey was kept confined until animal services arrived at around 3 p.m.

The monkey's owners, who were shopping in the store at the time, eventually came out to claim their pet. Police said the monkey had escaped from a crate, which was inside a parked car in the Ikea lot.

"It's a smart monkey," a police spokesperson told CBC News on Sunday.

Reports described the monkey as a rhesus macaque, a species native to central and southeast Asia.

The incident prompted the creation of at least two parody accounts on Twitter. One posting from one of those accounts asked if anyone "had an extra Allen key?"

Another Twitter post made fun of a popular Ikea ad, with an altered picture of the monkey at the Ikea exit shouting "start the car!"

Sites such as Reddit, Gawker and others also picked up on the story.

The U.K.-based Guardian ran the story under the headline "Hey Tiny spender." The BBC also ran a story about a monkey loose in a Toronto "car park."

On Monday, producers for Anderson Cooper's CNN talk show Anderson Live called Toronto police for information about the story.

Just before question period Monday, politicians on Parliament Hill referenced the monkey in their political rhetoric.

"Conservatives are as lost as a monkey in an IKEA. Though at least the monkey was wearing a coat to cover his shame," said NDP MP Chris Charlton.