Why I'm letting the gorillas I love go free: Son of legendary gambler John Aspinall reveals he's releasing the animals from his family zoo back to the


Part of the family: Damien Aspinall with Kifu, one of his beloved gorillas

Damian Aspinall was still a babe in arms when his late father, the colourful zookeeper and society gambling club host Johnny, first left him in the care of the family who live next-door to their imposing Palladian mansion in the Kent countryside. That was more than 50 years ago, and when he drops in to see them now, as he still does two or three times a week, ‘I feel as though I’m among my own cousins, aunts and uncles,’ he tells me warmly.
There may seem nothing very unusual about this, but accompanying Damian on one of these casual social visits, the extraordinary nature of his lifelong bond becomes movingly — and disconcertingly — apparent.

A tender bond: Damian with one of the gorillas who live at his wildlife parks

Approaching his neighbours’ home we are stopped dead in our tracks by a low, primal rumbling noise. ‘Don’t worry. They’re just asking why I’ve brought a stranger with me,’ he smiles, sensing my alarm.
Then, as we reach the door, the whole tribe comes bounding up to greet us, and though the head of the house — a huge, brooding chap — invites Damian in with a hairy-armed wave, it is clear from the menacing glint in his eye that uninvited guests aren’t welcome.

Lifelong bond: Damian Aspinall, pictured here in 1992, has had a close relationship to gorillas for most of his life

It wouldn’t be wise to argue. The neighbours in question, you see, are a group of lowland gorillas and even the smallest infant among them could yank a human arm clean out its socket. Damian is so familiar with them that he enters their paddock with barely a second thought, and the father, a 400lb silverback called Kifu, embraces him with a mighty hug before cheekily slipping a hand into his trouser pocket to pilfer a juicy pea-pod.

At one with the animals: Mr Aspinall, pictured in 2008 with three gorillas he released in the wild in Gabon

They then ‘converse’ for a few moments via a choreographed sequence of head and body movements before the protective alpha male, in an extremely rare show of trust, beckons his ‘wives’ and ‘children’ to join them for a chat.
The ritual ends with a one-sided wrestling match in which Kifu hurls Damian around the straw like a rag-doll. ‘He’s just being affectionate because he doesn’t want me to go,’ he laughs, checking his spine is still intact. ‘He’s always sad when I leave.’
Evidently so. And soon the 28-year-old gorilla’s sorrow might become permanent. For since taking over the two Kent wildlife parks founded by his father half a century ago, Damian has developed such a deep-seated loathing for zoos, and all they stand for, that he has embarked on a remarkable mission to return as many animals as possible to the wild.

source: dailymail