We Went to the Ikea Monkey's Charity Banquet

By Aidan Johnston

“LOVE IS UNCONDITIONAL, INSTINCTUAL AND KNOWS NO BOUNDS”- Yasmin Nakhuda, Ikea monkey owner

It was four months ago that Darwin—the trend forecasting monkey that was discovered in the halls of a Toronto IKEA—reassembled our hearts and kept the internet’s attention for longer than one day. I thought that the Ikea monkey fad was dead forever, but I was wrong. Darwin's owner/mother/vessel-through-which-he-speaks, Yasmin Nakhuda, expects to spend $100,000 - $150,000 of perfectly good human dollars on legal fees. She is still struggling to bring the politically imprisoned simian into her custody.

This is the point where most people would realize they have two options; let it go, gracefully stating “well at least I had a monkey for six months, that was cool, I'll start paying attention to my own children again” or “I'll write children's books and have a fundraiser for Darwin's release”. Unsurprisingly his Mum went for the latter option, which is why I ended up in the basement of Mississauga's Manchurian Madurai boathouse hall on Saturday evening where Yasmin was throwing a charity dinner for $75 a head that was advertised as a “buffet dinner along with dancing, door prizes, a viewing of exclusive home videos of Darwin ‘and lots of monkey fun!’”

My attempts at charity are often misguided, like when I gave my roti to a homeless man, unfortunately failing to inform the poor guy it was extra spicy and his body would become a ticking poop bomb. But a $75 charity dinner to reunite a woman with her monkey seemed straightforward enough. Organized by the Darling Darwin Monkey & Friends organization, a self proclaimed non-profit organization whose goal is raising funds to assist in the return of Darwin, the event was a who’s who of Nakhuda's family, friends and co-workers, making it feel like I'd ended up at her 40th birthday party by accident. Except at this birthday party poorly screenprinted monkey t-shirts were on sale, and all of the music was jungle and/or monkey themed.

After sitting through Yasmin’s home videos of Darwin and listening to her emotionally tell the room a story about feeding Darwin a raisin, I sat down with her to chat about her current campaign of awareness and Darwin-related merchandise.

Yasmin: I’m warning you, no matter what you write about me you’re going to have comments. Either you disable the comments or you’re ready for the thrashing. They'll call you the worst magazine.
VICE: Why?

Because you support me, because I’m whacko, I’m on crack, I got the worst eye make up...

Are these allegations or did you just say you're on crack?
No, not at all! It’s just all the crazy things people write about me. Once you publish it, you’re going to have the worst comments.

I appreciate the heads up. Moving on, Baltimora's “Tarzan Boy” played twice tonight, is it a theme song for these hard times?
Absolutely, it’s a jungle theme so we wanted to include it.

So why did you take so long at Ikea that day?
Believe it or not, it was because of Darwin. He ate my chairs, three of them at the office. I decided for the New Year to do a total revamp and change the office colour to a bright red. I wanted to surprise my staff on the Monday and I wanted to buy them red Christmas cards. But on Monday when my staff opened their cards, no one was smiling, because Darwin wasn’t there.

How does your real family feel about all the attention Darwin gets?
Initially, my young son felt jealous. But Darwin was jealous of him too. It was vice versa. They finally realized that I love both of them and they both have there respected places and I started to try and make them understand where each one belonged.

Where is you son right now?
He's here tonight. I even have great tapes where him and Darwin are hugging. When he’s with me Darwin knows, but when he's leaving Darwin cries, he doesn’t want him to leave.

They can switch those emotions on and off though. If Darwin was returned you'd be faced with moving to a municipality where it’s legal to own a monkey.
Yes, in the Kawartha Lakes there’s no bylaw, but some people are trying to shut the door on me going to the city and change the bylaw. If that happens then we'll have to move to a town further than Toronto which is more difficult for us because I'd still like to keep my law practice.

But you'd be willing to move your life to another city for this monkey?
Yes, we've decided that we'll have to change cities and that we will work around it, definitely.

One positive of of staying at the animal sanctuary is that his chances of getting laid went up by like, 100%. Aren’t you happy he has the chance to be around other monkeys?
I don’t want to criticize the sanctuary, I believe they mean well and they believe that wild animals should be in the wild and not be made pets of. But Darwin ended up with me. Of the two evils, either being with me or being in the sanctuary, I think I'm the lesser of the two evils. Right now he’s in a cage and they can’t introduce other monkeys to him. If you look at the photos of him there, he’s not in his natural habitat, his face tells you everything. With us he had a lot of enrichment, there they just throw a couple of soccer balls in a cage and leave them there for 30 years. I don't think that’s enrichment.

He could get really good at soccer.
But he's alone and everybody played with him at home, he experienced different things. We handled him. They’re 93% human DNA, they want companionship and they want interaction, so just throwing a ball and leaving him by himself is not going to be something that he’s happy with. A baby monkey needs to be on its mothers back and he's not getting that, so he's already going through trauma that he should not be exposed to.

Since Darwin broke out of your car, do you think he could figure a way out of the animal sanctuary?
Well maybe that's something I want to think about for volume 12 of my books, how he breaks out of the sanctuary.

Where does the next book in the series take Darwin? Leon’s? The Brick?
Pretty much it’s gonna be like the apes rising, with Darwin being the leader of a bunch of monkeys trying to get out of their cell. But I don’t want to give away the ending.

It was earth all along?
It's a little bit of a secret! It's inspired by animal intelligence, I was fascinated with Darwin how he was able to interact with me, it's not like when you have a reptile, you have companionship and something you can learn from.


Professional monkeys holding it down at a Japanese restaurant.

But you can get that from a dog, and dogs don’t carry Herpes B or become aggressive during sexual maturity.
But look at the statistics, how many people die from monkeys? Again I'm going to refer you too that YouTube showing macaque's working in a Japanese restaurant. They’re licensed workers, they have labor laws. They are with strangers and nobody is attacking anyone.

They can't attack anyone cause they'd lose their job.
Probably! Maybe but, capuchin monkeys also work as handicapped workers, and if they were dangerous imagine tying down a monkey to someone who cant defend themselves? So I think the sanctuary wants you to believe that these monkeys are dangerous and violent and carry diseases. Humans can become violent too, so what should we do just cage all of us?

Hey, at the end of the day we're all just apes aren’t we?
Yes, I think so, though I think sometimes monkeys can be better than humans. If you give them real love they can be better than us. I have faith in it.

 

Photos by Aaron Wynia.

Previously:

We Interviewed the Ikea Monkey

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