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

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By Nick Craven

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 as­pinall­foun­da­­na­tions/.

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

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