Meet the new missus, guys!
The incredible moment Damian Aspinall’s wife f irst encounters his other family: the gorillas he bred in the African jungle
HE IS A 20-stone giant who could, if he wanted, kill her with a single blow. Yet these astonishing photographs show how Victoria Aspinall is more than relaxed enough to nestle her head into the lap of the wild gorilla she’d only just met in the Gabon jungle.
But then, the beast is a friend of the family – as he was bred by her husband, the multi-millionaire conservationist Damian Aspinall, at his wild animal park, Howletts, in Kent.
Ima, as he was named, was released into the wild four years ago, aged 12, and this summer Mr Aspinall took his new wife to central Africa so she could meet him and his cousin Djalta.
The couple, who married last year, travelled by boat up the crocodile-infested Mpassa River to the lush green forest, then located the gorillas with the aid of a drone fitted with a camera.
Wading through the water from the boat and up the bank, Mr Aspinall, 57, emitted a deep gurgle to signify friendly intentions, which was quickly reciprocated by Ima. The animal then lumbered over and embraced him with remarkable tenderness, considering his strength.
Then it was the turn of Burberry executive Victoria, 30, who had been waiting in the boat to join the party. ‘I was incredibly nervous,’ she recalled, ‘but I trust Damian’s experience with these animals and he beckoned me over, so I knew it would be safe.’
It wasn’t long before Ima came over to inspect his new visitor.
Then it was time for him to show a little affection, nuzzling her neck, checking her hair for nits, and putting a protective arm around her. He seemed fascinated by her baseball cap and decided to try it on forr hi mself, even en carefully adjustusting the angle. Later, Victoria helps him put it on again.
Eventually, Victoria settled in his lap. ‘It was the most beautiful and humbling experience and one which I will never forget,’ she said. ‘Some- how, because wew were there on his territory, onceonc I’d got over my i initial fears, it seemed only natural to curl up in his lap.’ The remarkable encounter was captured on video, which can be exclusively viewed on Mail Online. Victoria added: ‘I hope that watching these gorillas, happy and free, will inspire those who believe, as we do, that the place for wildlife is in the wild rather than in captivity.’
The number of Western Lowland gorillas like Ima has fallen by 60 per cent in the past 25 years and the Aspinall Foundation is working to reintroduce them. Next month the couple will return to Africa with four more captive-bred males.
Donations can be made online via aspinallfoundation.org/donations/.
GENTLE GIANT: Victoria Aspinall (above left with husband Damian) lies in the lap of 20-stone Ima. The gorilla also nuzzles her and lets her embrace him – and even tries on her baseball cap