Damian Aspinall and Victoria Fisher walked down the aisle in 2016. Victoria joked that she was also marrying his passion for animals when they tied the knot. Luckily, she has a passion for animals. Damian decided to introduce her to two gorillas that he helped raised and release into the wild 14 years ago. Things didn’t exactly go as expected! Read on to find what happened in the process of finding the gorillas.
1. An Exotic Childhood
Damian Aspinall grew up around exotic animals. His father, John Aspinall, was a founder of Howletts Wild Animal Park, where Damian grew up. He had a memorable time with animals instead of humans. However, he never expected he would face with two gorillas he raised many years later.
2. The Aspinall Foundation
John Aspinall set up the charity organization Aspinall Foundation to found the Howletts Wild Animal Park. There are two zoos breeding endangered and rare animals, such as tigers and gorillas. The charity organization helped orphaned gorillas back into the wild. Damian then became the chairman of the organization after his father passed away. He had big plans since he was a child.
3. Staying With Animals
Damian recalled that he had very few friends, and people were afraid of coming over to his house due to the dangerous animals. But Damian felt satisfied with the situation. "To be perfectly honest, I’ve always felt disconnected, and humans inevitably let you down – animals never do."
4. Animal Friends
Despite the lack of playmates, Damian says that he had an extraordinary childhood, playing with tigers and bison or goofing around with a gang of wolves.
5. Compelled for Change
Damian Aspinall had a hardship even he is a millionaire today. His father refused to help him, so he made his money through investing in real estate. Other family members had no interest in animals and didn't want to get involved with his charity career.
6. Baby Gorillas
Despite the hardship, Damian helped to raise a number of baby gorillas from birth since he was a child. They became close day by day, as if they were children of his very own. Two of them were named Djalta and Ima, both male gorillas. Later he had big plans of them. He decided to move them back in the wild, where they would gain happiness.
7. Married His Lifelong Partner
In August of 2016, Damian Aspinall married Victoria Fisher who joked that when she married him, she also married his animals and his love for them. To Victoria, that’s just fine. She loves the animals just as much as her husband does. ”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!” But the circumstances in which Damian and Victoria met are even more interesting.
8. How They Met
Damian and Victoria met by chance at a dinner party and she, not knowing who he was, agreed to go out on a date with him. “At the lunch date he had all these stories about Howletts so I Googled him afterward and couldn’t believe it all existed.” “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,” she added. This couldn’t have been more true when Damian decided to introduce Victoria to his beloved gorillas.
9. Reintroduced Into the Wild
It had been 14 years since Djalta and Ima, the gorillas Damian had raised as a child, were reintroduced into the wild to a protected habitat. Damian was now eager to look for them and check up on their status. This wasn’t the first time Damian led an expedition to relocate gorillas that had been reintroduced into the wild, but this time would be different. He would be taking along his wife, Victoria. But neither of them expected what was about to happen.
10. A Unique Bond
During Djalta and Ima’s time at Howletts Wild Animal Park, they became very close to Damian. They had a special bond and Damian was eager to find if they would remember him and how they would react to him now. Fully grown gorillas can also be dangerous and Damian wasn't sure how they would act to Victoria.
11. Off They Go
Soon enough, Damian, Victoria, and a small team of experts flew out to Gabon in the hope of locating the gorillas Djalta and Ima. Damian was very excited to see his old friends again, yet nervous about their reaction to Victoria. The couple decided to went ahead with the excursion. However, finding the gorillas first would turn out to be much more challenging task than they imagined.
12. The Quest For The Gorillas
The group traversed difficult landscape and took a long boat ride down the river along the jungle to get to the location where Djalta and Ima were supposed to be. Both of the gorillas had GPS locators attached to them, but that only provided a general location.
13. New Technological Innovations
After hours of searching the jungle, the team was just about to give up hope. However, Damian, his wife, and the team had also come prepared for such a scenario and knew they’d have to get a little creative by using modern technology.
14. Using Drones
Since the devices attached to Djalta and Ima were not able to pinpoint their exact location, the team got creative and decided that the fastest way to locate them was with state of the art drones with cameras attached to them. With the help of the technology, they were finally able to locate Djalta and Ima. Damian could only hope the reunion would go down smoother than the search.
15. Is It A Bird
The strange flying object caught the gorillas’ attention and they slowly came out from behind the bushes. The came out cautiously, not knowing whether the drone was a friend or foe. They seemed confused at first. But they didn’t show interest than any aggressive tendencies. Luckily for Damian, Djalta and Ima were found next to a river bank. This was the perfect location for Victoria and the team to approach the gorillas slowly by boat. It was almost time to meet the gorillas, and tensions are high.
16. The Moment of Truth
Would the large primates be aggressive after spending so much time away from humans? Djalta and Ima quickly spotted the approaching boat carrying Damian, Victoria, and the crew. If anything, the two gorillas seemed intrigued by what was happening, but things can change very quickly when you’re dealing with wild animals. That’s exactly what Damian and Victoria were about to find out.
17. A Gorilla’s Nature
By nature, gorillas are very shy creatures. But they are also incredibly strong animals that can be deadly if provoked. All it takes to provoke a gorilla is one wrong move. If you do something to surprise a gorilla, they may easily mistake the movement as an act of aggression and react violently in response. But just how would Djalta and Ima react to the man who helped raise them? What’s more, how would they react to Victoria?
As the boat drew closer to the bank of the river where Djalta and Ima were located, the crew returned their drone back safely to them, not wanting to over stimulate the gorillas. The boat’s approach was very, very slow and steady. Damian and the crew wanted to be as cautious as possible. There was a rush of nervous silence on the boat as they drew even closer.
19. The Perfect Strategy
Damian decided that he should be the first to approach the gorillas, seeing it was possible that they would remember him. But it had been 14 long years since Djalta and Ima had been returned to the wild. Damian slowly exited the boat into the waist-high waters of the river. He didn’t want to bring the boat in too close to the gorillas for fear that the sound of the motor would startle them. Slowly, he crept forward.
Damian stayed low to the ground, making sure not to be taller than the gorillas and seem a danger to them. Luckily, the gorillas showed no sign of aggression. After being near Damian for a short time, they began to make noises. Damian found the noises very familiar and knew what they meant. They were friendly noises that sound something like a grunt or a gurgle. After all, it appeared as if Djalta and Ima did remember Damian after so many years' seperation.
21. A Relaxed Approach
Damian could sense that both Djalta and Ima were familiar with him, so he decided that it was finally time to introduce them to his wife, Victoria. “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,” Victoria said. Both Djalta and Ima took a liking to Damian, as it is possible that they remembered him, but they weren’t so easy going with Victoria.
22. Victoria’s Chance
Victoria slowly made her way through the waters. When she was just a few feet away, Damian told her to stop and stay where she was. He wanted to make sure whether the gorillas were hostile or aggressive. That’s when one of the gorillas made the same gurgling sound they had made to Damian; the first sign that they were going to be friendly to Victoria. Damian then told Victoria to come a bit closer, as things looked like they were going well. At least for the time being.
23. Friendly Noises
She slowly approached the bank of the river and sat down near the edge. Damian hoped that the gorillas would accept Victoria as part of his clan and welcome her in the same way they had welcomed him. That’s when one of the gorillas made a deep guttural sound, a sign that Damian took to mean something good.
24. Comfortable Acceptance
Damian took the noise to mean that the gorillas were going to be accept her as a friend. Then one of them came over to her and gave her a nuzzle with his face: a clear sign that the gorillas had accepted Victoria. The two were very friendly, offering warm hugs and gentle nuzzles. From there, Damian and Victoria decided to call it a day and they left the bank of the river and the two gorillas behind. But that wouldn’t be the last they saw of each other.
25. The Next Day
Damian and Victoria returned to the same spot next day, hoping that both Djalta and Ima would be close by. Lucky for them, there were right there where Damian and his wife left them the previous day. Ima was immediately captivated by Victoria, he came rushing over to her making happy noises of acceptance. Then, Victoria and Ima embraced in a hug and played around with each other. But then something happened that shocked Victoria.
26. The Hat
Ima the gorilla took Victoria’s hat, sniffed it a bit, then placed it on his own head in a hilarious way. Just like a human would. The warm interaction was recorded by Damian and uploaded YouTube. The YouTube video took quickly went viral, having been viewed on social media nearly 12 million times and liked some 46,000 times. The two gorillas, Djalta and Ima were transferred to the protected habitat in 2013 and remain there until today.
27. Gorilla Habitats
Gorillas live exclusively in African tropical rainforests. They are divided into two categories, eastern and western gorillas. The gorillas were split at some point, most likely during the Ice Age. They have been separated for so long that they now have distinct characteristics. Gorillas generally only leave the forest when looking for food. They cannot survive without the forest. Sometimes mountain gorillas climb higher than the tree line, but the tracks of these gorillas have even been found at altitudes as high as 4,000 meters.
28. Declining Population
In the past 25 years, the population of the western lowland gorilla, such as Djalta and Ima, has declined by around 60%. Although the exact number is hard to calculate due to the gorilla’s shy nature, populations are rapidly dropping. The decline in population is mainly due to human intervention and diseases such as Ebola. Poachers at times hunt gorillas for their meat, sport, or for trophies. Currently, all species of gorillas are either endangered or critically endangered. Something that Damian and his family are trying to change.
29. Are They Dangerous?
In general, gorillas are very shy by nature and are reserved towards humans. They can be dangerous when thrreatned or provoked. Usually due to human error. If a gorilla feels surprised or threatened in any way, it is possible that they will act out in violence to protect themselves. A silverback male gorilla may respond with a loud roar or even bluff charges.
30. The Bluff
A bluff charge is when a gorilla charges at someone then stops around a meter from its target. If the target acts submissive then he has nothing to fear, and the gorilla will let them go as they didn’t react or act out in violence. However, if the target of a bluff charge attempts to run away, then the gorilla will chase its target. Gorillas are fast animals and can easily catch a fleeing human. When caught, a gorilla will generally bite the first body part it can get to.