Gorillas Released From Captivity Reunite With The Humans Who Raised Them
It's been more than a decade since Djalta and Bimms, two western lowland gorillas born at a wildlife park in England, were released from captivity to live free in the jungles of West Africa. But even after all those years, with the setting of their upbringing so distant from the wilderness in which they live now, the bonds of affection they forged with the people who raised them have yet to be broken.
Djalta and Bimms are two of the dozens of gorillas who were raised by conservationist Damian Aspinall at the Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent. He released them into the wild in 2003.
Aspinall considers the animals members of his family, so naturally his own children became acquainted with the gorillas at an early age. Aspinall's eldest daughter, Tansy, was just 18 months old when she met Djalta and Bimms, laying the foundation for a friendship that hasn't been forgotten.
Aspinall and Tansy recently traveled to the dense forests of Gabon, which Djalta and Bimms now call home, to reunite with the gorillas they raised.
"We looked for many hours on the river to find them, and then they appeared after hearing my calls," says Aspinall, in a video of the reunion."It's a privilege to go and see an animal that you've raised in captivity, you released, and you don't see for a few years, and then you find them in the forest and they greet you like long-lost brothers. I can see, the way they were playing with me, how pleased they were to see me. It was so gentle, the way they were playing."
Aspinall wasn't sure how Djalta and Bimms would respond to seeing Tansy, who was a still a child when the animals were released more than 10 years ago. But despite the passing of time, they seemed to recognize her.
"As Tansy approached, I could hear the gorilla gurgles, and I felt more and more confident that she would be accepted by them," says Aspinall.
Tansy admits that she was apprehensive about meeting the animals whom she had only known in captivity, though she soon found that she was no stranger to them.
"It was amazing to see that not only did they know me, but they also had such gentle looks on their faces that I felt immediately safe and reassured," Tansy tells the Mail Online. "At no point did I feel fear."
"It was lovely to see Tansy with her old friends," says Aspinall.
To what extent the emotional experience of gorillas mirrors our own is a subject of scholarly debate, though scientific observations suggest the differences may not be so vast. Like humans, primates are generally highly social animals, forming very strong relationships with individuals in their group. Primates have been found to demonstrate behavior indicative of grief and mourning upon the loss of a companion, so a reunion like the one seen above may very well trigger opposite feelings of happiness and joy.
The Aspinall Foundation, which operates two wildlife parks in the UK, focuses on returning gorillas born in captivity to a life in the wild. As of 2010, the organization has released more than 50 gorillas into protected areas of the jungles of Gabon.