2. The Aspinall Foundation
Howletts Wild Animal Park was established when John Aspinall set up the charity organization Aspinall Foundation. The organization promotes wildlife conservation and set up two zoos in the United Kingdom, Port Lympne Wild Animal Park and Howletts Wild Animal Park. Both of the locations breed rare and endangered animals, such as gorillas and tigers. The organization has a project for orphaned gorillas and a project that reintroduces bred gorillas back into the wild at Plateau Bateke National Park in Gabon. When Damian became the chairman of the organization after his father passed away, he had big and wonderful plans for the animals, and it all started when he was just a young child.
3. Dangerous Animals
4. Animal Friends
Despite all that, Damian says that he had “an extraordinarily blessed childhood.” “We’ve got Super 8 films from the 60s of me as a seven-year-old, playing with tigers and bison around a tree or tearing around the lawns with a gang of wolves,” he went on to say. Damian also recalled being chased, along with some animals, by a swarm of wasps after upsetting a nest. He and all of the animals raced to get away from them and dove head first into a pond nearby.
5. Compelled for Change
6. Baby Gorillas
While Damian was growing up, he helped to raise a number of baby gorillas from birth. They became very close, as if they were children of his very own. Two of them were named Djalta and Ima, both male gorillas. “Both of the gorillas were planned to be moved back into the wild in a protected habitat,” Damian explained in an interview. He firmly believed that saving the gorillas would ensure them the right to happiness, which animals so richly deserve just like humans. According to Damian, it’s the key to coexistence on the planet. But there was more on the cards for Damian and his plans.
7. Wolf Children
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 afterwards and couldn’t believe it all existed.” “I wouldn’t naturally go for that sort of setup,” Victoria admitted to Daily Mail. “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
10. A Unique Bond
During Djalta and Ima’s time at Howletts Wild Animal Park, the two became very close to Damian. They had a special bond and Damian was eager to see if they would remember him and how they would react to him now that they were living in the wild. Fully grown gorillas can also be dangerous as they are incredibly strong animals, and Damian was well aware of that. He wasn’t sure how they would react to Victoria, a stranger. However, before Damian could concern himself with this valid feeling of trepidation, he would have to locate the gorillas first in the very large area.
12. An Adventure
Attempting to locate the gorillas proved to be more challenging than the team had expected. The team traveled all the way from the United Kingdom to the coastal central African country of Gabon, but they had much farther to go if they were to find the gorillas. Damian and Victoria were forced to traverse difficult landscape and take 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. Getting Creative
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. The drones were attached to Damian’s smartphone, so he could scour the terrain looking for Djalta and Ima from a bird’s eye perspective. With the help of the technology, they were finally able to locate the two gorillas. Damian could only hope the reunion would go down smoother than the search.
16. The Moment of Truth
It was almost time to finally meet the gorillas, and tensions were high. Would they remember Damian? Would they be aggressive after spending so much time away from humans? Those questions were all about to be answered soon. 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
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 or have one of them attempt to catch the buzzing device. The boat’s approach was very, very slow and steady. Knowing that a gorilla’s reaction to humans can be unpredictable and hard to read, 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 stayed low to the ground, making sure not to be taller than the gorillas and seem threatening to them. Luckily, the gorillas showed no sign of aggression and 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.
21. A Relaxed Approach
22. Victoria’s Chance
As Damian sat on the bank of the river, 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 wait for a sign that the gorillas weren’t going to be 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. The Slow Approach
Damian took the noise to mean that the gorillas had accepted Victoria and were going to be friendly with her. 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
26. The Hat
In an act of hilarity, Ima took Victoria’s hat, sniffed it a bit, then placed it on his own head. Just like a human would. The video of the interaction between Victoria and the gorillas has been uploaded YouTube. The YouTube video quickly went viral, having been viewed nearly 12 million times and liked 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
28. Declining Population
In the past 25 years, the population of the western lowland gorilla, such as Djalta and Ima, has dropped 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 humans 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.
29. Are They Dangerous?
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.