Damian Aspinall is best described as the English Steve Irwin. Growing up in his fathers zoo, Howletts Wild Animal Park, he was surrounded by Gorillas and other wildlife. Gorillas were the main attraction for the young Aspinall and he even raised two wild gorillas and released them to the wild. Years later, he met Victoria, they were married, and they set out on an adventure to find the two gorillas he had raised. The results of the encounter are not what you may expect. The results are not what anyone expected.
Growing Up Gorillas
Damian grew up around all types of animals, but the gorillas were his favorite. Born in Kent, England, the 700-acre zoo was a child’s dream come true. While we see gorillas as somewhat grumpy and dangerous animals, Damian found them to be beautiful and caring creatures.
A Rescue from a Giant
One of the earliest memories Aspinall recalls is being stuck in a tree. One of the gorillas was a surrogate mother of sorts when he was a child and climbed the tree, put the young Damian on her back, brought him to safety and even wiped away his tears. This set the foundation for the raising of the two gorillas that would surprise him in ways he didn’t expect years later, alongside his wife.
Connecting with Danger
Damian recalls growing up as a solitary child. Speaking with the Daily Mail he said, “You don’t get play-dates when you’ve got tigers in the garden. The odd mate came, otherwise it was just me and the animals. To be perfectly honest, I’ve always felt disconnected, and humans inevitably let you down – animals never do. There’s more of an honesty and purity there.”
Damian to the Rescue
Damian, through his love of animals, saved his father’s zoo’s after he passed. While John never helped Damian financially, his son made millions in real estate. Once John passed, he learned just how dire the zoo situation had become.
“You have to understand that when he died, there was no money in the bank and these parks were losing £4m a year. Now we have to find £10m a year,” Damian said. “I can see why the other family members didn’t want to be involved. My brother and sister had no interest in animals, but I was compelled to do it.”
Damian had always been close to the gorillas, helping in a number of births and raising of the babies. His love of the gorillas continues to this day. And once married, he had no choice but to introduce his wife Victoria to them to shocking results.
The Philosophy of the Wild
Damian is also a firm believer in the sanctity of wildlife as a whole. In an interview, he explained “Both of the gorillas were planned to be moved back into the wild in a protected habitat,” when referring to the two babies he helped raise. He felt that they had every right that a human had. As long as humans and wildlife could exist and be happy, the world would continue to move in the right direction. Little did he know what was to come.
A True Conservationist
While Damian grew up in zoos, his views have changed on just how important they really are. In an interview with Express.co.uk he had a number of things to say. To paraphrase some, he felt that zoos were equivalent to life without parole for animals. We had played God too long with these lives, and if we were able to put them in zoos, certainly, we could get them back in the wild to be conserved.
“In the next 20-30 years, it would be a lovely goal to see zoos phased out or if they’re not, to see them truly doing what I believe is true conservation work.
“What I mean by that is that they only keep truly endangered animals.
“Zoos are stuck in a trap because they need to get the public in because otherwise they will go bust.
“And the only way they can get the public in is because the public is simply addicted to animal shows: they demand to see animals on display.
“But truthfully, if zoos did what was best for the animals, not what’s best for the public, they would be very different places.
“I absolutely feel sick in my stomach that zoos do animal shows.
“I come from a point of view where no animal should be here to entertain us…”
Essentially, he feels that we live in a culture that is too complacent to be entertained by animals and that hurts their chances of living in a more natural environment.
A Fateful Mate
With a man of Damian’s fame and fortune, meeting the right woman would have seemed a challenge. He doesn’t only live a charmed life, he is also very involved in the world of animal conservation. Once he married Victoria Fisher in 2016, everything fell into place. A beautiful woman to say the least, she doesn’t seem like one that would fall for animals in the same way in which Damian did. According to an interview, and the her life with Damian, she may surprise you, ”It might sound crazy but I genuinely love the wolves as if they were my own children,” she says. “Kago even used to sleep in our bed!” A wolf may sound dangerous, but a gorilla is a whole different story.
Their Unusual Meeting
Damian and Victoria don’t work on paper. That is straight from an interview with Daily Mail in which she said, “I wouldn’t naturally go for that sort of setup, and I don’t think anyone would have put us together on paper. Damian would say the same thing – neither of us was looking for the other.” While she accepted Damian for everything he was, she had yet to meet the gorillas that Damian raised.
The Wild Bunch
Djalta and Ima, the two baby gorillas Damian raised as a child were now living in a protected habitat in the wild. Mr. Aspinall was no stranger to expeditions to check up on animals, but this would be the first time in a decade since he had seen the two, and his wife would be with him. The results were unexpected.
A Lifelong Friendship
Ima and Djalta were close to Damian while they lived at Howletts Wild Animal Park, so much so that the bond seemed unbreakable. Damian was curious to see if they would remember him, and how they would react once they saw him again. They had been living in the wild for a decade now. And while that was nerve wracking enough, he was going to introduce them to the love of his life. He, Victoria, and everyone involved could not predict what would happen next.
A Massive Adventure
With Damian, Victoria, and a few experts ready to head out on the search for Djalta and Ima, the size of the location to be searched became a reality, especially to Victoria. Located in Gabon, the two would be nearly impossible to find, but they were determined to complete their adventure, regardless of the consequences.
Technology to the Rescue
The search seemed to be all but impossible and hope was fading. Gorillas, of course, aren’t going to come running to strange humans, and with the thick brush that they were comfortable with, hiding was the easiest thing in the world for them. So the team decided to call out drones to help with the search. After some time, they located the two gorillas, but Damian hoped that difficult search was not a sign of how the meeting would go.
Initial Feelings of Apprehension
It turned out that the drones were a perfect way to gauge how the two gorillas may react. As the drone was unnatural in their world, it would be expected that they would show aggression or fear. Instead, they were somewhat complacent and a little confused by the flying object. As the two gorillas were lounging near a river bank, it seemed that this was the perfect time for the team to approach and risk it all in hopes of a happy reunion.
As Damian, Victoria, and the team approached Djalta and Ima, the two gorillas watched the boat carefully. Damian was well aware of how quickly wild animals can go from seeming passive to aggressive and he knew that he was taking a big risk. They had come this far, though, so in their minds, there was no turning back.
Understanding a Gorilla
Damian knows gorillas and their habits well. They tend to be shy, but protective of their territory. If threatened, that is when things can go south, quickly. He decided that the best course of action would be to keep the boat as far away as possible and trad through the waist-high water to approach the two. This would prevent them from being frightened or alarmed by the sound of the motors, and would let him make first contact. He started his approach, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
Damian Reunites With Old Friends
Damian approached the two gorillas low to the ground to ensure he did not threaten them. By making himself smaller, the two gorillas had little to fear. As he got closer, they seemed to show no aggression – and then the noises started. These noises were ones Damian understood. They were signs of acceptance, friendship, recognition. They knew who he was and showed that they remembered him by moving closer to greet their old friend. This is when Victoria decided it was time to introduce herself and see if they would be as friendly to her as they were to Damian.
A New Family Member?
Victoria recounted her thoughts before approaching in an interview, stating; “I decided to gently ease my way ashore. I didn’t want to frighten them and I wanted to make sure that they were relaxed,” which was exactly the same approach Damian used. The only difference is Damian had a history with Djalta and Ima, Victoria was a stranger on their land. And initially, they did not take the same approach to her encroachment on their land.
Victoria, Djalta, and Ima
Upon getting close to the shore, Damian told his wife to wait. He wanted to ensure that the two gorillas would not be the aggressors. They didn’t seem to take the same liking to Victoria as they did with Damian at first, but with a slow approach, things may not end up poorly for Victoria and the two gorillas. As Damian gave her the okay to slowly approach closer, Djalta and Ima started making the same friendly grunting noises that they had with Damian. The initial hesitation may have been nothing more than curiosity. In no time at all, Victoria was accepted by the two and quickly embraced her as if she were party of the family.
The Future with New Friends
Over the next day, Djalta, Ima, Damian, and Victoria spent plenty of time together. It was nothing short of a man introducing his wife to his family for the first time. The acceptance of Victoria and the remembrance of Damian from the two gorillas, may have made a bigger impact than anyone could have imagined. The story has spread like wildfire; covered by PBS Wildlife and many other large publications, showing that these animals are a part of what makes this world so beautiful. Due to poaching, disease and human interference, the gorillas are critically endangered. Now, Victoria, Damian, and in their own way, Djalta and Ima are fighting to change that by showing just how gentle these giants really are. When approached with kindness and understanding, they are like big, strong puppies. The story has had a happy ending so far, but it is on everyone to ensure that continues.