Cookie's Fortune

updated 08/07/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

She may be in the middle of a bitter custody battle between the government and the Brooklyn family that raised her, but it's hard to escape the conclusion that Cookie has a face only a mother could love—especially if the mother is Inna Flikshtein. "Cookie," coos Flikshtein, 46, "is the most beautiful baby in the world."

Her reaction is all too human, and therein lies the problem—Cookie is a Diana Guenon monkey, a member of an endangered species native to West Africa. And while she has become accustomed to Rocky Road ice cream and frilly miniskirts since Flikshtein and her husband, Roman, 48, bought her in 1995 for $4,500, New York State and federal authorities say she can no longer live with them.

"This isn't a case of the government trying to steal someone's pet," says Jennifer Post, spokeswoman for New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation, which wants to set an example to prevent others from trafficking in endangered animals. "The Detroit Zoo has a program to resocialize this type of monkey, and that's where we believe it belongs." The Flikshteins, naturally, think Cookie is already where she belongs. "Can't someone make those people understand Cookie is like my sister?" says Inna's daughter Michelle, 13. Adds Inna: "She doesn't even know she is a monkey."

Now that their last legal appeal has been rejected by New York's highest court, the Flikshteins expect to see the authorities showing up at their home any day. They may have to get past some neighbors. "We'll blockade the whole street if that's what it takes," vows Alexias Gioia, 65, who lives a block away. "That is one happy little monkey."

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