Darwin, the young primate whose playful fashion sense (think incontinent 1970s pimp) and love of affordable Scandinavian design made for one hell of an (adorable yet devastating) meme, is reportedly “thriving” one year after he was found loitering around an IKEA parking lot in suburban Toronto.

And by thriving, I mean that the 19-month-old Japanese macaque has permanently shed his signature shearling mini-jacket and is instead “learning how to be a monkey again” — you know, making monkey noises, swinging around a fire pole, splashing around in water, picking goobers out of his hair, etc. — with the help of the dedicated staff at the Story Book Primate Sanctuary in rural Sunderland, Ontario.

While Izzy Hirji, chair of Story Book’s board of directors, tells the Toronto Star that Darwin is “growing into a healthy, confident, adolescent,” the damage may have already been done in terms of his ability to bond and socialize with the other resident macaques at the facility. While Darwin has indeed seen and interacted with other macaques during his year at the sanctuary, it has been through a mesh screen. Story Book’s staff held off on introducing Darwin’s kin into his enclosure for liability reasons as the young fellow was still at the center of a heated legal battle.

Yasmin Nakhuda, Darwin’s estranged human “mom” who left him unattended in her car outside of a Toronto IKEA store last winter, appears to still really want her “son” back — “I just need him to be back home,” she pleaded — and has launched an appeal after a judge ruled in September that the monkey was not being “illegally detained” as accused and should remain in the care of Story Book Primate Sanctuary. The sanctuary has been looking after Darwin since shortly after he escaped from his locked crate within Nakhuda’s locked car while she was inside the Swedish furniture emporium shopping for new chairs (replacements for chairs that he had destroyed, apparently) and embarked on a fame-making jaunt around IKEA before being captured by Toronto Animal Services.

While Nakhuda, a real estate attorney, continues to rally against “injustice” and fight to bring her beloved Darwin back home, caregivers at Story Book continue to help the juvenile macaque unlearn the bad habits (i.e. temper tantrums) he picked up during the short time he lived with Nakhuda, when he played the role of a human toddler. Hirji refers to this deprogramming of sorts as a “life-long process.”

Remarks former primatologist and author Andrew Westoll: “Darwin has literally come leaps and bounds since arriving at Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary. He has shed his human clothing and begun learning how to be a monkey again. This, after a long year of court dates, groundless accusations and bitter acrimony, is an absolute triumph. And it wouldn't have been possible without the incredible volunteer staff of Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary."

And as mentioned, Story Book's handlers are considering formally introducing Darwin to another macaque but fear that the window of opportunity to do so may have already passed. “Currently, we’re not sure about that,” Hirji tells the Star in reference to bringing another macaque into Darwin’s enclosure. “Of course, we would love to have a partner for him to interact with.” (I suppose that means that Darwin won't soon be hot tubbin’ with a few of his closest buds or writing a revealing tell-all with Mally, the capuchin seized by German officials from another Canadian: ill-mannered pop-twit Justin Bieber.)

Nakhuda, martyr of mega-persistent women who have had their illegally obtained pet monkeys taken away from them everywhere, isn’t giving up and hopes to one day reunite with Darwin. “I’ve been misjudged, and I’d like to fight this privately this time,” she says of the appeal. “It has never been about (me) being a media seeker. It is about loving him.”

And if you or someone you know are enamored with Darwin, 'tis the season to make a donation to Story Book Primate Sanctuary so that it can continue its good work. Or you could just buy a lingonberry-scented "Runaway Monkey" air freshener.

Via [The Star]

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