From the archives: This story was last updated in February 2019.
In the summer of 2017, a British conservationist introduced his wife to his gorilla friends that were released back into the jungles of Gabon 14 years ago. Facing grown-up male gorillas for the first time was quite an intimidating experience for her, but it turned out to be an incredible and unforgettable rendezvous.
It was quite a challenge for conservationist Damian Aspinall, his wife, and his team to find their long-lost gorilla friends in the vast jungles of Gabon.
Finally, with the help of a drone, they located two male gorillas along a riverbank, Djalta and Ima, who were cousins bred at The Aspinall Foundation’s Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent. The Foundation’s mission is to preserve the critically endangered western lowland gorilla.
“All the team at The Aspinall Foundation work so hard to care for their animals and prepare them for their journey back to the wild, and seeing them so happy and free makes it all worth it,” said Aspinall.
Upon nearing the cousins by boat, Aspinall cautiously approached them, first exiting the boat into the river and gradually finding a safe place to sit on the riverbank, just feet away from his 300-pound (approx. 136-kilogram) gorilla friends.
He watched for signs to reassure himself that they would not be hostile or aggressive before asking his wife to slowly ease her way ashore.
Before long, Ima the gorilla made a “gurgling” sound, vocalizing his acceptance of Victoria as one of Aspinall’s group. And before she knew it, the ape had the young lady in his gentle embrace.
Totally at ease in her presence, the gentle giant was amazingly tender and playful around Victoria, alleviating all their initial worry. Like old friends, the two hugged and cuddled.
Playfully, the gorilla stole her cap and had the spontaneity and humor to put it on his head as best as he could manage.
“I think I’ve lost my wife. He’s completely in love with her!” Aspinall joked happily, seeing them getting along so well.
“Coming face-to-face with Ima and Djalta was pretty scary at first but ended up being the most beautiful and humbling experience, and one which I will never forget,” said Victoria.
Video courtesy of The Aspinall Foundation