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Court denies Canadian woman custody of monkey

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The sign of Swedish furniture giant Ikea in Montpellier, France on March 27, 2013.AFP/File

A Canadian judged refused Friday to order the return of a woman's pet monkey, which won global fame when it was found wandering an Ikea parking lot in a stylish jacket.

Yasmin Nakhuda had gone to court to try to force a sanctuary to return the animal, which she described as being like a child to her.

But Ontario Superior Court Judge Mary Vallee ruled against her.

"The monkey is not a child," Vallee said in a 13-page decision.

"The monkey is a wild animal," she said. "Ms. Nakhuda lost ownership of the monkey when she lost possession."

Darwin the Japanese snow macaque became an instant Internet celebrity last December when Nakhuda took the animal shopping to furniture giant Ikea.

While she was inside the store, Darwin escaped from his crate inside her locked car and was spotted strolling around the furniture store's parking lot, wearing a sheepskin coat.

Vallee's ruling relied in part on a case in 1917 in which a Canadian commercial fox breeder claimed the value of a pelt from a neighbour who had shot one of his foxes after it had escaped from its pen.

In that case, the Ontario Court of Appeal decided that wild animals are owned only while they are possessed.

Lawyers for the Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary, which took in the monkey after it was seized, successfully argued in this case that the court does not have jurisdiction to determine what is in the best interests of the monkey, but simply who owns it.

During the trial, Nakhuda said she was willing to move out of Toronto, which prohibits owning exotic pets, in order to regain custody of the animal.

Darwin had "bonded" to her, she testified.

In videos posted online, she is seen nurturing the animal, changing its diapers -- "He hated wearing them," according to court documents -- and brushing their teeth together.

But in emails to an animal trainer, she admitted that Darwin -- which she bought from a "shady exotic animal dealer" for Can$5,000 -- would run away when not leashed, and she worried about his biting when his adult teeth would eventually grow in.

In her decision, the judge also said authorities had good reason to detain the monkey to check for "illegally imported monkey diseases."