When Victoria and Damian Aspinall got married, she knew that his passion for animals was part of the deal. He owned two zoos, so he was quite familiar with dangerous and exotic animals. It did not take long before he took his new wife to introduce her to the gorillas he raised over a decade ago. Keep reading to see what went down when Damian introduced Victoria…things did not go according to plan!
An Unusual Childhood
Unlike most people, Damian Aspinall spent his childhood surrounded by exotic animals. John Aspinall, his father, launched Howletts Wild Animal Park in 1957. Damian grew up in the 700-acre estate in Kent, England alongside a large variety of exotic animals. You can say that Damian was basically raised by a gorilla mother!
They Looked Out For Him
He could even recall how he once got stuck in a tree – it was a good thing the gorilla approached him, placed him on her back, and took him to safety. Apparently, she even wiped his tears away and comforted him! Despite the connection the little boy felt with animals, Damian could not have foretold what would happen when he came face to face with the gorillas he grew up with.
The Aspinall Foundation
Howletts Wild Animal Park came to be when John Aspinall created a charity organization called the Aspinall Foundation. The agency promotes the conservation of wildlife and used proceeds to launch two zoos in the United Kingdom: Howletts Wild Animal Park and Port Lympne Wild Animal Park. In both locations, they breed endangered and rare animals like tigers and gorillas.
Inheriting The Organization
The organization runs a project for orphaned gorillas that involves the reintroduction of these animals back into the wild, particularly at the Plateau Bateke National Park in Gabon. After his father’s death, Damian succeeded him as the chairman. He finally had the power to enact the wonderful plans that he had been dreaming up since he was a boy.
Better Than Humans
When it comes to his childhood, Damian does not recall ever having friends over. Not only was their house full of possibly dangerous animals, but he also felt a deeper connection with the animals than he did with other humans. “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,” he explained to Daily Mail.
Despite everything, Damian has said that he went through “an extraordinarily blessed childhood.” He explained, “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.” Damian recounted how he and his animal friends were once chased by a swarm of wasps when they upset a nest. He and the rest of the gang ran away from the buzzing insects and dove into a pond to get away from them. What a story!
Making His Own Fortune
Damian Aspinall might have a net worth in the millions, but this was not always the case. His father actually refused to lend him a hand with his finances, so he worked his way up in real estate. John passed away with no money left over for the management of the zoos, how would Damian keep the family business thriving?
A Burning Desire
Damian explained, “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.” His desire to work with animals propelled him to take over his father’s company.
As he was growing up, Damian helped raise several baby gorillas. He formed a bond with them and treated them like they were his very own children. Two of these were male gorillas named Ima and Djalta respectively. “Both of the gorillas were planned to be moved back into the wild in a protected habitat,” he explained during an interview. He was a firm believer that saving these gorillas would provide them with the right to happiness, something animals deserved just as much as humans did. For Damian, this was the way to find coexistence. However, there were other things in store for him.
Although Damien is now married to Victoria, he had a previous marriage and long term relationship, and children as well. He and Louise Elizabeth Julia Sebag-Montefiore were married for 15 years, and had 2 daughters together, Tansy Aspinall and Clary Aspinall. Tansy is now 30 years old, and Clary is 27 years old. Damien also has another daughter with long-term girlfriend Donna Air, 16 year old Freya Aspinall.
Like Their Own Children
In August 2016, Damian Aspinall and Victoria Fisher became man and wife in a ceremony in Tuscany, Italy. The former Burberry employee joked that she knew she would be marrying his animals when they exchanged vows. It was simply part of the package! According to her, she did not mind the arrangement since she loves animals as well. ”It might sound crazy but I genuinely love the wolves as if they were my own children,” she said. “Kago even used to sleep in our bed!” But first, let us take a step back and find out how these two lovely individuals met.
Through Mutual Friends
Damian and Victoria first met while attending a dinner party. She had no idea who he was at the time, but nonetheless agreed to go on a date with him. “At the lunch date he had all these stories about Howletts so I Googled him afterwards and couldn’t believe it all existed,” she narrated. She also told the Daily Mail, “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.” This was even more evident when Damian decided it was time for Victoria to meet the gorillas.
Looking For Djalta and Ima
It had been more than ten years since Ima and Djalta the gorillas had been reintroduced into the wild. Damian wanted to look for them and see how the pair had been doing in the protected habitat. It was not the first time he launched an expedition to look for the gorillas he raised and let go of. However, this time was quite unique…
A Unique Trip
This time Damian planned on taking his new spouse, Victoria along on the trip. We can’t imagine her emotions…she was about to meet real, live…gorillas! However, neither of the two expected what destiny cooked up for them. So how did the expedition go?
Missing His Gorilla Friends
When Ima and Djalta were still at Howletts Wild Animal Park, they became close to Damian. They formed a unique bond with him and Damian wanted to know if they could still remember him. He wanted to see how they would react now that they had been living in the wild for some time. But, the trip would come with some risks as well.
A Major Risk Involved
Damian knew that fully grown gorillas could potentially be dangerous. He was also unsure if they would react positively to the presence of a stranger. The last thing he wanted was to put his new wife in danger. But before Damian could find out the answers to all his questions, he first needed to find the gorillas in the huge expanse of the park.
Going To Gabon
It did not take long before Damian and Victoria, accompanied by a team of experts, headed to Gabon in their quest to locate Ima and Djalta. Damian was excited to see the pair, though he was also nervous for Victoria. Despite this reservation, the couple decided to set aside all the fears they had and continued with the plan.
The whole crew traveled from the United Kingdom to Gabon, but they still had a lot of things to do if they wanted to locate Ima and Djalta. Damian and Victoria had to cross the difficult terrain and go on a boat ride across the river to reach the destination where Ima and Djalta were supposed to be.
Off They Go
Everyone was aware that injuries were in the realm of possibilities, but they decided to go on regardless. However, they did not expect just how difficult it would actually be to locate the gorillas.
The Quest For The Gorillas
Luckily, before they released the gorillas into the wild, they made sure to attach GPS locators to them. This smart move would make it much easier to find the gorilas. However, it only gave them a general location and not a specific one.
New Technological Innovations
Although Ima and Djalta have been looked after since their release, it was still difficult to figure out their exact location in the dense jungle. Aside from that, Damian knew it would be best to approach them slowly to avoid startling them. After spending hours combing through the jungle, the team thought it was time to give up the search for Ima and Djalta. Luckily, they knew that something like this might happen, so they came prepared with a gadget that can make things a little easier for the whole team.
Since they were unable to determine the location of the gorillas with only the GPS locators, they decided to give it a shot with the use of top-of-the-line drones that had cameras attached. They connected it to Damian’s smartphone. This allowed him to survey the terrain as he looked for Ima and Djalta from a bird’s eye point of view. Thanks to these advancements in technology, they finally determined where the pair of gorillas were located. Now that the search was over, Damian hoped the reunion would not be as difficult.
Is It A Bird
The flying object must have captured the attention of the gorillas, leading them to come out from the bushes. We know that we would be just as interested if we were in their place. They stepped out cautiously since they were not yet sure if it was a predator or not. Understandably, they were initially confused. It was good thing that they did not display any aggressive or angry behavior. This was how Damian found Ima and Djalta beside a river bank. This made it possible for everyone to approach the animals slowly using the boat.
In The Blink Of An Eye
Ima and Djalta spotted the boat carrying the whole crew right away. More than anything, they appeared to be intrigued by what was unraveling before their eyes. However, things could change in the blink of an eye when it comes to wild animals. No one knows this better than Damian and Victoria.
At Long Last
It was nearly time to meet the gorillas, and everyone was waiting with bated breath. Would they even remember Damian? Would they act aggressive after being away from humans for such a long period of time? They would find out the answers to these questions soon enough.
Gorillas are naturally shy creatures that stay away from humans. They are strong animals who could kill humans when provoked. More importantly, it does not take a lot to provoke these primates. One wrong move could prove to be the end for you. If you ever surprise them, they may interpret your action to be a sign of aggression and retaliate.
What Happens Next
As the boat approached the bank of the river where the pair were located, the team retrieved the drone. After all, they did not want to overstimulate Ima and Djalta nor have them try and catch the device. The boat was approaching them in a very slow and steady manner. They knew that gorillas tend to be hard-to-read and unpredictable when it comes to humans. Damian and the entire team wanted to do this as carefully as possible. Everyone fell silent as they came closer to where they were.
How Would They React?
What do you think happened when Ima and Djalta came face to face with the man who raised them? Would they react positively to Damien, and to the new human, Victoria? We’re all about to find out!
Putting The Plan To Action
Damian was aware that he had to be the first one to approach them as there was still a chance they would recognize the man who raised them. Despite this, 14 years apart is still a significant amount of time. Even though he was unsure if they remember him, Damian exited the boat and went into the waist-high river. He did not want to have the boat come too close since the sound of the motor might startle them. He moved forward slowly.
Damian made sure to crouch to ensure that he would not be taller than the gorillas. Doing this will lessen the chances of appearing threatening. They displayed no aggression and even started to make some noises when Damian had been near them for a while. Damian recognized the noises and knew what they were trying to say. Was it good or bad?
The noises they made were friendly! The sounds were like a gurgle or a grunt. It seems like Ima and Djalta remember him despite the years that have passed! Now, how about Victoria? How would that go?
Slow And Steady
Damian was able to sense that the gorillas felt comfortable with his presence. This was the moment he decided to introduce Victoria to Ima and Djalta. She made her way out of the boat and waded through the water to approach them at the river bank. “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,” Victoria recounted. Both Ima and Djalta were comfortable with Damian, probably because they remembered who he was. However, how would they react to a stranger?
Damian had been sitting on the river bank when Victoria made her way to where they were. She was only a few feet away from him when he asked her to freeze and remain in her spot. Damian first wanted to make sure that the gorillas would not react aggressively to her presence. This was crucial.
Slowly But Surely
Despite his excitement at the reunion, the gorillas did not take to him right away. It was easy to see why he was concerned about how they would react to Victoria. Still, she continued to approach the river bank and then sat down by the edge. Damian kept his fingers crossed that Ima and Djalta would take Victoria in as a part of his clan and give her the same welcome they gave him. This was the moment one of the two released a guttural sound, which Damian took to be a good sign.
To their surprise, they made the gurgling sound again! As you might have guessed, they took it to be the first sign they were not going to attack Victoria. Damian told her to come closer since it looked like they were going to be fine – at least this was the case for the time being.
Welcome To The Family
Damian believed the noise meant the gorillas accepted Victoria into the family and would behave accordingly. As further proof, one of them then approached her and nuzzled her face! This clearly meant that Ima and Djalta liked and accepted his wife.
Gentle Nuzzles & Warm Hugs
The gorillas behaved friendly with both Damian and Victoria, offering gentle nuzzles and warm hugs. The couple decided it was time to call it a day and headed for the boat on the river. They might have left the gorillas behind, but that definitely did not mean they were abandoning them.
The Following Day
Damian and Victoria came back to the same area the following day in the hopes that both Ima and Djalta would be around. Fortunately, they did not have to look far since they were at the same spot where the couple left them just the day before. Ima appeared absolutely captivated by Victoria as he rushed over to her and began making the guttural noises.
They Began To Play
Victoria and Ima then embraced each other and began to play! Without a doubt, they liked one another a lot. However, what happened next came as a surprise to Victoria, and we think to Damien as well.
Hilariously, Ima grabbed Victoria’s hat, inspected it a little bit, and then put it on his very own head! Doesn’t that sound like something a person would do? The interaction had been caught on tape, and the video was subsequently uploaded to YouTube. Would people watch it?
The video went viral and it had 12 million views! We bet Victoria and Damian had no idea their video would be such a big hit. Although they were pretty famous to begin with, this video definitely propelled them to super stardom!
Where They Live
Gorillas are exclusively found in the tropical rainforests of Africa. There are two categories of gorillas: eastern and western. They had been split at one point in history, probably during the Ice Age. They were apart for so long that these gorillas developed distinct characteristics. Generally, gorillas only ever go out of the forest to look for food. When it comes to everything else, they need the forest for survival. Mountain gorillas sometimes climb higher than the tree line – can you believe that gorilla tracks have been found at heights of 4,000 meters? Whoa.
In the last 25 years or so, the population of the western lowland gorilla has gone down by about 60%. It is difficult to keep track of the exact number since these gorillas, like Djalta and Ima, have a shy nature. Nonetheless, it is clear that the population is dropping rapidly. This has been attributed to human intervention and diseases.
To This Day
Unfortunately, poachers are known to hunt these animals for sport, meat, or trophies. At the moment, all gorilla species are endangered or critically endangered. Damian is trying to change this by creating habitats for the gorillas. Ima and Djalta had been transferred to the habitat in 2013. You will still find them there to this day.
Gorillas Are Generally Gentle
Generally, gorillas are shy creatures who have reservations when it comes to human contact. These primates will generally leave humans alone and even stay away from them as much as possible. This case is of course insanely unique and very rare!
A Rare Case
There are certain situations in which gorillas could be dangerous, often as a result of human error. This is why it is extremely important for only experienced professional to approach them. Cheetahs can also act aggressively when wrongly approached. This photo of Damian’s daughter Freya with a cheetah is adorable, but remember: don’t try this at home!
If gorillas feel threatened or surprised, they will likely act violently to protect themselves. Yes, this happens even when they are not actually in danger. Silverback male gorillas typically respond with bluff charges and loud roars. You should know that gorillas are fast creatures who can catch a running human without a problem. When they catch you, they will bite the closest body part! Yikes.
Prince William And Damian
As you are aware, Damian Aspinall is quite a famous conservationist, so it should come as no surprise that he met Prince William. Prince William came across Damian’s incredible work for animals and decided to back the Aspinall Foundation’s rhino conservation back in 2012.
Becoming An Aspinall
The Aspinalls are quite a famous family in the UK, mainly thanks to their conservation work. Damian’s gorgeous wife Victoria has been featured in numerous magazines, giving fans a glimpse into the family’s incredible lives with wild animals.
Can you imagine being married to someone who has wild animals in their home? And we’re not just talking about in the backyard…Damian used to actually sleep with baby cubs when raising them, before returning them to the wild. We can imagine it wasn’t the easiest transition for Victoria, but we do have to admit, they look radiantly smitten with one another.
Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve
The Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve is an exquisite 4 star hotel run by the Aspinall family. The hotel sits within the safari reserve, among amazing landscaped gardens. This is one of the room at the Port Lympne. Yes, you can wake up to a female lion staring you down…too cool!
You can also eat at this amazing restaurant when you stay at the Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve. For $300.00 a night, you can experience this once in a lifetime experience. Enjoy a family trip with memories that will last forever. Oh, and don’t forget your passes to the safari are included in the price! All proceeds go to Damian and his organization, so in some ways, your stay is helping save wild animals!
Freya Follows In Her Father’s Footsteps
Damian’s youngest daughter Freya has followed in her father’s footsteps, as she also enjoys being around animals. Freya helps out where she can, but the 16 year old is currently an aspiring model. She is actually the youngest model ever signed by Storm, the agency who discovered Kate Moss. It is safe to say she is quite busy!
Tansy Also Has A Love For Animals
30 year old Tansy remembers growing up with the wild animals from a young age. She recalls, “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.” 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.
The Aspinall Foundation doesn’t just deal with gorillas, but also many other types of animals such as monkeys, rhinos, lions, and pictured here: wolves! The goal is to stop the extinction of rare and endangered species by raising them in their sanctuary in Kent, England and then returning them to the wild.
A Joint Effort
It was very important for Damian to find a significant other who loves conservation work just as much as he does. Damian knew he had found the love of his life in Victoria, and that was solidified when he saw how much she truly loves and cares for the animals on their reserve. Running a conservation organization is no easy feat, and it only makes Damian’s job just a bit easier to have Victoria by his side.
Victoria Aspinall is also bringing their family and the Aspinall Foundation good publicity by appearing in magazines and giving interviews. She gives us a glimpse into their wild lives, and what it’s really like to go from a normal life to becoming a part of Britain’s wildest family! It’s very hard for most of us to believe some people’s lives are actually like this, so more insight is always helpful.
In Your Wildest Dreams
Back in December, Damian and Victoria were bottle feeding Saba the baby leopard each and every night before bed. She was treated like a little baby to ensure her recovery and future life in the wild be successful. Victoria posted this photo on her Instagram with the caption “Nightfeeds for baby Saba last December…the cutest #family”. Could you imagine this being your evening??? Incredible.
Freya is very proud of her father for all of the amazing work he does and continues to do for those who don’t have a voice. She has said that her father is her biggest role model, and she hopes to grow up to be half the person he is. We think her words, and this picture are so sweet!
Towards The Future
The internationally renowned Aspinall family and their incredible foundation are the reason animals all over the world are still thriving today, instead of facing extinction. Their animal conservation charity saves lives each and every day, and we commend their dedication and all of the hard work put in.