The Aspinall family legacy is well-known amongst animal activists of the world.
In 1957, successful gambler John Aspinall gained worldwide notoriety for sharing his house with a capuchin monkey, 9-week-old tiger, and two Himalayan black bears.
Later that year, John purchased the Howletts country house and estate near Canterbury, Kent, transforming the land into a private zoo.
When John passed away in June of 2000, aged 74, his son Damian Aspinall decided to carry on his legacy.
Damian took over the Aspinall Foundation, an organization which breeds endangered gorillas to return them to the wild.
The foundation’s website reads:
“Our commitment is to conservation, through captive breeding, education, and reintroduction. We are working in some of the world’s most fragile environments to save endangered animals and return them to the wild.”
According to the World Wildlife Foundation, western lowland gorillas have become critically endangered due to poaching and disease. In fact, in the last 20 to 25 years, the population has decreased by 60%.
Some of Damian’s beliefs are controversial— but there’s no denying he’s dedicated his life to helping animals.
“If I had my way, I’d close down 90 percent of all zoos tomorrow, he said in a 2012 interview.
“[Zoos] are a necessary evil, and if we are going to have them, there should be a law that they have programs to protect their wilderness and reintroduce animals into the wild.”
“Otherwise, you just have a collection of animals being kept for the enjoyment of man— and I don’t think animals should be kept for our enjoyment.”
Damian married Victoria Fisher, a 29-year-old business executive, in August of 2016.
“He asked me for lunch the same week [we met] and normally I would have said no,” she revealed. “But I found him intriguing. He’s one of those guys who captures your attention immediately.”
Since that moment, Damian’s been introducing Victoria to the “people” who matter most— his beloved gorillas, of course.
In a video uploaded to YouTube in September of 2017 by The Aspinall Foundation, you see the powerful moment Victoria earns a wild gorilla’s trust.
The description of the video reads: “In June 2017, our Chairman, Damian Aspinall and his wife, Victoria, made a special trip to our project in Gabon to oversee the transfer of a young gorilla group from the sanctuary where they met, to our Gorilla Project in the Batéké Plateau National Park.”
While they were there, Damian was hoping to check in with Ima and Djalta, two of his gorillas who had been introduced into the wild. At first, the team couldn’t locate them— but after searching with an aerial drone, they managed to track them down. Victoria and Damian traveled by boat up the crocodile-infested river to get to their destination.
Damian hadn’t seen the gorillas for four years and wasn’t sure how they’d react to Victoria’s presence.
“She’s never ever had any contact with gorillas, so it’s going to be very interesting,” he tells the camera.
Damian approaches the gorillas first, emitting a deep, friendly gurgle which is quickly reciprocated.
Victoria stands back, as the animal eyes her with dubious eyes. The giant creature could crush her at the drop of a hat, but somehow, the young woman stays calm.
As Victoria and the gorillas check each other out, the tension and anxiety are palpable.
Finally, in an incredibly powerful moment, she manages to win their trust.
For the rest of the video, you see Victoria interacting with the gorillas in the most amazing way.
The incredible encounter has been viewed 13 million times— and once you see it, it’s not hard to understand why.
“These gorillas definitely need protecting through this foundation, it would be a shame if these awesome creatures went extinct, they need to be on this earth.”
“Some of their mannerisms are so human-like. It’s incredible.”
“As I watched I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was choked up in emotion. We, humans, think we are so clever, yet this video shows we have much to learn from animals.”
If you’re interested in helping save the gorillas, there are a few things you can do. Firstly, a visit is a great way to help. “Most of the people living in these areas are farmers so land is critical to their livelihood,” Gorilla Doctors explains. “However, the governments of Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo have kept the gorilla’s habitat off-limits to agriculture… largely because the revenue gained from tourism.”
If a visit isn’t in your budget, donating to conservation organizations is also a great way to help. If you chose this route, Gorilla Doctors is a great place to donate to. Their efforts have been deemed responsible for 40% of the growth of human-habituated mountain gorilla population in Virgunga Massif over the last 10 years. To make a donation, click here.
See Victoria’s amazing moment below.
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