Ikea monkey's 'mom' wrote to trainer that Darwin was biting and a 'time bomb'

TORONTO – The woman who refers to herself as the Ikea monkey’s mom wrote in an email that she was “unfit” to care for the primate, calling him a “time bomb” because she couldn’t stop him from biting, court heard Thursday.

Emails from Yasmin Nakhuda to an American monkey trainer were read out during a court hearing in which Nakhuda is attempting to get Darwin back from the primate sanctuary where he was sent after being seized at Ikea by Toronto Animal Services.

The emails describe Nakhuda’s struggles in controlling Darwin’s behaviour. Her husband received “the most vicious bites” but Darwin was also biting her 12-year-old son, she wrote.

Monkey trainer Lisa Whiteaker responded to Nakhuda’s email by saying Nakhuda had a lot to learn about primates and that she desperately needed help.

“He will attack someone in your office,” Whiteaker predicted. Nakhuda, a real estate lawyer, took Darwin to her office every day since getting him in July, court heard. “One bite from the wrong person and he will be taken away.”

Whiteaker, Nakhuda’s lawyer noted, was convicted in the United States under animal welfare laws of contributing to a monkey’s death.

Nakhuda was surprised by the negative response, her lawyer said, and was upset in her reply to Whiteaker.

“I have concluded, judging by the tons of mistakes you say I have already made … that I am truly unfit to be a caregiver for Darwin,” Nakhuda wrote. “You are right to say that I am sitting on a time bomb … I don’t believe Darwin can change … All I can do now is to take Darwin to an animal shelter and I don’t even know one here.”

Nakhuda’s lawyer, Ted Charney, suggested his client didn’t really mean that. She was despondent over the criticism from Whiteaker, he said.

Charney suggested that the two emails — the first one sent at the end of November — are what the Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary is using to form incendiary allegations of abuse.

They allege Nakhuda “strangled” the monkey, hit him and didn’t change his diapers for several days.

Charney said the choking allegation comes from the way Nakhuda held Darwin while bathing him. The email refers to the breeder — not Nakhuda — hitting Darwin, Charney said, and the emails contain one reference to Nakhuda leaving Darwin in the same diaper for 36 hours because she had difficulty changing it right after she brought him home.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Michael Brown is deciding where Darwin should live until the case can be fully heard at a trial. Nakhuda argues that the longer Darwin is away from her, the more the bond between them will suffer.

Charney cited evidence from a woman who has experience with primates, who said that there would be a regression with such a bond after a separation of two to four months, and “devastating consequences” for the bond if the separation lasts longer than four months.

Charney is also arguing in court that animal services wrongly told her that once they seized the monkey they owned him and that she had to sign the surrender form. Nakhuda maintains she signed the surrender form because she was told that if she did she would not face criminal charges for owning an illegal animal.

One of the officers gave evidence in advance of Thursday’s hearing that he suggested there could be repercussions for Nakhuda under provincial laws if she didn’t sign a form surrendering Darwin.