When Damian and Victoria tied the knot, she was aware that she was going to have to deal with his love for animals. As the owner of two zoos, he was fond of all kinds of animals, even the dangerous and exotic ones. Not long after their wedding, he knew she had to be introduced to another part of his life…
An Unusual Childhood
Not many people can say they grew up alongside many exotic animals. However, Damian Aspinall could because his father started Howletts Wild Animal Park back in 1957. Then a young boy, he practically grew up there!
They Looked Out For Him
He remembers how he got stuck in a tree once. Luckily, a gorilla got up there, put him on her back, and delivered him to safety! According to him, she also wiped away his tears and comforted him.
The Aspinall Foundation
How did Howletts Wild Animal Park get its start? It all began when John Aspinall formed the Aspinall Foundation, a charity organization. There were two zoos that they wanted to create in the name of wildlife conservation: Howletts Wild Animal Park and Port Lympne Wild Animal Park.
Inheriting The Organization
There was also an orphaned gorillas project. It basically involved the reintroduction of the poor animals into the wild. After the death of his father, it was time for Damian to inherit the role of chairman. He could then enact all the ideas he wanted.
Better Than Humans
When he was a child, he did not ever have any friends visit him. He clearly didn’t mind, however. He said, “You don’t get playdates 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.”
Despite this, Damian knew he had “an extraordinarily blessed childhood.” He narrated, “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.”
Making His Own Fortune
Although Damian Aspinall now has millions to his name, it wasn’t always like this. His father did not help him out financially, so he had to work hard in the field of real estate. John did not leave any money behind for the zoos, so how could Damian keep the zoo running?
A Burning Desire
Damian said, “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. 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.”
When Damian was growing up, he raised a couple of baby gorillas. He treated them like his own children. In particular, there were two gorillas he was fond of: Iwa and Djalta. He explained, “Both of the gorillas were planned to be moved back into the wild in a protected habitat.”
Before his union with Victoria, Damian was previously married. He and his ex-wife Louise Elizabeth Julia Sebag-Montefiore had two kids together: 30-year-old Tansy and 27-year-old Clary. Aside from them, he has yet another daughter with a former girlfriend named Donna Air. Freya is now 16 years old.
Like Their Own Children
Damian Aspinall and Victoria Fisher walked down the aisle in Tuscany in August 2016. She even cracked a joke about how she was also marrying all of his animals when they tied the knot. Luckily, she is passionate about animals herself. ”It might sound crazy but I genuinely love the wolves as if they were my own children,” she explained. “Kago even used to sleep in our bed!”
Through Mutual Friends
The lovebirds first got to know each other at a dinner party. They went out soon after this. “At the lunch date he had all these stories about Howletts so I Googled him afterward and couldn’t believe it all existed,” 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.”
Looking For Djalta and Ima
It had been longer than a decade since Djalta and Ima were reintroduced to the wild. Damian wanted to check up on them. It wasn’t the first time he went on an adventure to seek them out in the protected habitat. Needless to say, however, things would be different this time around.
A Unique Trip
It is because he wanted to bring Victoria with him on the trip! Can you imagine what it must be like to meet gorillas in real life? While they planned it, nature would have something else in store for them.
Missing His Gorilla Friends
When the gorillas were still at Howletts Wild Animal Park, the two were close to Damian. They forged a special bond, but he was unsure if they could still remember him. He wanted to find out for himself.
A Major Risk Involved
He was aware that full-grown gorillas posed some risks. He did not know how they would feel about a stranger in their territory. Needless to say, the last thing he would want is to put Victoria in danger.
Going To Gabon
Not long after this, Damian and Victoria were accompanied by experts to Gabon in order to look for the two. He was excited by the prospect of seeing his old friends but also felt nervous for his new wife.
The team traveled to Gabon from the United Kingdom. It was not an easy mission. There were many things to be done if they wanted to succeed. They had to cross difficult terrain and even hop on a boat.
Off They Go
Everyone expected that injuries would be possible on this mission, but they were willing to risk it all. However, no one on the team thought it would be this difficult to actually find the pair of gorillas!
The Quest For The Gorillas
We are glad that they first placed GPS locators on the animals before they were released into the wild. It allowed them to monitor their location, but things did not end there as it only gave them a general site.
New Technological Innovations
The jungle was so thick that it was extremely hard to look for the two gorillas. It did not help that Damian asked everyone to go slowly as not to startle the large animals. Everyone started to feel hopeless about the mission, but Damian came prepared.
The GPS locators did not bring them to the specific site, so Damian knew it was time to bring out his drones. After hooking it up to his smartphone, he used it to survey the terrain. Finally, they found where Djalta and Ima were staying.
Is It A Bird
The flying thing likely caught their attention since they stepped out of the bushes afterward. They looked cautious and confused as they approached the object. Luckily, there was no aggression in them the whole time. That was how they found Ima and Djalta by the riverbank.
In The Blink Of An Eye
Ima and Djalta then spotted the crew as they headed for them on the boat. They looked intrigued by the situation. However, everyone knows that things could change in a snap in situations like this one.
At Long Last
It was finally time to approach the gorillas. You can just imagine how nervous and excited everyone must have been. Now, they were about the get the answers to their questions. Would they recognize Damian? Were they going to behave aggressively?
Gorillas are generally shy creatures that do not normally approach humans. However, keep in mind that they are strong enough to kill us when provoked. Luckily, it usually takes a lot to provoke these animals.
What Happens Next
As they got closer to the riverbank, the team turned off the drone. They did not want to overstimulate them, after all. They wanted to go about it carefully, which is the reason they took a slow approach.
How Would They React?
It was only natural for everyone on the crew to be full of questions at that moment. What do you think happened when they were reunited with Damian? How would they take to a new human?
Putting The Plan To Action
Damian had to be the first one in the team to go and approach them since they might remember him. However, he knew it has been a long time since the last time they saw each other. Nonetheless, he stepped out of the boat and crossed the river.
Damian did not want to threaten them, so he crouched low to make it seem like he was not taller than them. However, they did not display any aggression whatsoever! Instead, they began to make noises.
The gurgles or grunts they made were friendly noises. They were sounds Damian himself remembered. Clearly, his gorilla pals did not forget about him at all. Now, did it go just as well for Victoria?
Slow And Steady
After he saw that they were comfortable with him, he decided it was time to bring Victoria to the two. “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,” she recalled.
Damian was waiting for Victoria by the riverbank as she made her way to their spot. All of a sudden, he told her to stay where she was. It was important for them to check what the gorillas thought of her.
Slowly But Surely
There were a lot of reasons why he felt concerned about this scenario. Anyway, Victoria eventually kept going before resting at the edge. However, they knew it was all good when they made guttural sounds!
That’s right, they made that same noise for her this time! They took it to mean that she was going to be fine. That is the reason Damian told her to come near them as nothing seemed to be the problem.
Welcome To The Family
Damian was under the impression that they made the noise to tell him they accepted her into their family. More evidence came when one of them approached her and even nuzzled her! How cute is that?
Gentle Nuzzles & Warm Hugs
The gorillas had been friendly with both Damian and Victoria. After sharing nuzzles and hugs, the couple decided they should get back and hopped on the boat. This did not mean they were abandoning them!
The Following Day
Damian and Victoria actually returned to that area the next day. Luckily for them, they found the two at the same place as the day before. Ima looked like he was completely taken with Victoria! He went over to her and made more noises.
They Began To Play
Ima and Victoria shared a hug and began to play together. It was clear that they enjoyed the company of each other. However, Victoria and Damian had no way to predict what was going to happen!
Ima grabbed the hat she was wearing, turned it over, and then wore it on top of his head! How silly is that? You can imagine a person doing it, but a gorilla? The interaction was later uploaded to YouTube.
As a matter of fact, the video ended up getting 12 million hits. We doubt the couple could have foreseen how popular the video was going to be. It propelled them to the world of Internet fame, of course.
Where They Live
You can only find gorillas in the tropical rainforests in Africa. There are two kinds: the eastern and western gorillas. They have been so separated that they even developed distinct characteristics. You won’t believe how high mountain gorillas can climb. Apparently, the record is 4,000 meters!
In the previous 25 years, the western lowland gorilla faced a 60% population drop. It might be hard to give an exact number thanks to their shy nature, but this is largely thanks to humans and diseases.
To This Day
It is truly unfortunate that poachers feel the need to hunt gorillas for trophies, meat, or sport. Right now, all species of the animal are endangered to varying extents. Damian wants to make things better by making gorilla habitats.
Gorillas Are Generally Gentle
Gorillas are shy animals who are rather reserved when it comes to contact with humans. They will leave humans alone as long as we keep out of their way. This story is, therefore, a unique one.
A Rare Case
There have been circumstances when gorillas have led to deaths, although human error should be blamed. If you are not a professional stay away. Here is a photo of Freya Aspinall with another dangerous animal.
Whenever gorillas are threatened or surprised, their first reaction is to act violently to get rid of the threat. Silverback male gorillas use bluff charges and loud roars. These are fast creatures who can bite you!
Prince William And Damian
Damian Aspinall is a famous person in the field of conservation. This is why it is not surprising to hear he has met Prince William in the past. In 2012, the royal paid a visit to the Aspinall Foundation rhino conservation.
Becoming An Aspinall
If you are in the United Kingdom, you might have heard of the Aspinalls for their conservation work in the past. Meanwhile, Victoria herself has graced different magazines to offer us what it is like to live and work with wild animals.
Do you think you would like to have a partner who literally lives with wild animals? We say literally because Damian has talked about sleeping with cubs before they are ready for release to the wild!
Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve
The Aspinall family also runs a 4-star hotel sitting inside the safari reserve. Called the Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve, guests can enjoy a lovely stay among the lovely gardens on the property. This room is amazing!
You can eat at this fantastic restaurant during your stay at the hotel. At only $300 a night, you cannot possibly go wrong here. The prices already come with the safari passes, so what else could you want?
Freya Follows In Her Father’s Footsteps
Freya, the youngest of Damian’s daughters, is just like her father in some ways. She is also passionate about animals, but she is currently busy with her modeling work nowadays! She is the youngest person to have ever joined Storm.
Tansy Also Has A Love For Animals
This is Tansy. The 30-year-old woman also has great childhood memories with wild animals. She recalled, “From the cottage you can see the gorillas. I started hanging out with them when I was really young – there are photographs of me riding on their backs – and I remember always feeling so comfortable around them. I never felt afraid or in any danger.”
when I was really young – there are photographs of me riding on their backs – and I remember always feeling so comfortable around them. I never felt afraid or in any danger.” Tansy supports her father’s passions for saving animals and believes it’s her duty to protect her endangered “family”. We wouldn’t be surprised if she one day runs the company.
Apart from gorillas, the Aspinall Foundation also helps monkeys like lions, monkeys, rhinos, and wolves! They hope to prevent the extinction of such animals by raising them before releasing the animals back into the wild.
A Joint Effort
For Damian, it was of utmost importance for his partner to be passionate about conservation work. This was actually how he knew he wanted to be with Victoria. His feelings grew when he saw how much she loved animals.
Victoria also does her part by bringing in good publicity for the foundation. By doing interviews and magazine appearances, she has allowed us a peek of what it must be like to be part of this amazing family.
In Your Wildest Dreams
Last December, the two of them bottle fed a baby leopard called Saba each night. She was almost like a baby to this amazing couple! Victoria took to Instagram to talk about it. Here was what she wrote, “Nightfeeds for baby Saba last December…the cutest #family”
Freya is incredibly proud of her father for the amazing work he continues to do. She has admitted that he is her greatest role model! It is always sweet to hear children talking about their parents like this.
Towards The Future
The Aspinall family is definitely admirable for all the hard work they put into the field. The animal conservation charity has done amazing things for endangered animals. We truly admire their commitment to this cause.