The man who was conducting the safari tour had advised Ivanka not to approach the gorillas. He was experienced as a guide and he knew what he was talking about. This was a necessary warning.
But Ivanka pushed it off and didn’t give it much attention. She told him that she had a connection with the gorillas, but soon she would be faced with the consequences of her actions.
Ivanka was born with privilege. Her father found success in the gas industry and resided in St. Petersburg, Russia. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he became wealthy quickly because of his connections and bright personality.
Ivanka was used to a life of luxury. She had everything that she could ever want within arms reach, and she always got her way.
Her father was a flashy man who relished the finer things in life. He would hold soirees and purchase exorbitant works of art and antique furnishings.
He would also frequently purchase unusual gifts for his family members: his generosity helped his relatives, friends, and professional colleagues. However, one gift took the cake.
After he obtained his wealth, Ivanka’s father purchased various exotic animals. This included an anaconda and anteater. He did, however, go even more extravagant at one stage.
As a gift for Ivanka, he purchased a baby gorilla. This was, without a doubt, one of his most grandiose acts. People were curious as to how the primate would get along with Ivanka, who was just five years old at the time.
They Got Along Fine
For several years, they got on swimmingly. After all, the infant gorilla, named Koko, was still a baby. It was gentle, active, and everyone thought it was adorable, and Ivanka loved having Koko around.
This, however, only lasted a few years. Nature and the natural progression of life always prevails, and things quickly deteriorate.
Koko began to mature over time. It grew larger, stronger, and more hostile as it approached adolescence. On the other hand, Ivanka’s family believed it was still controllable. The area in which Koko was housed was modified to make it feel more like its native habitat.
However, they would soon be proved wrong. Koko kept maturing, and things were about to take a turn for the worst.
Koko managed to get free from its confinement one day. That was risky enough on its own, but it occurred at one of the most inopportune times.
Ivanka’s father hosted one of his famed, extravagant parties at his home. The gorilla then burst into the center of the house, where all of the visitors were having a good time. He smashed some furniture and came dangerously near to injuring one of the partygoers.
Her Only Option
Everyone in Ivanka’s family realized that the arrangement was no longer viable after this episode. They were unable to maintain Koko at their residence. It had to be out in nature, where it belonged.
As a result, they contacted the appropriate authorities to rehabilitate Koko and then release him into the jungle of Gabon. Ivanka cried as she said her goodbyes. She’d known that fearsome ape since she was a child. However, there was no other choice.
Making A Plan
After 12 years, Ivanka celebrated her 25th birthday and fondly remembered her time with Koko. Ivanka then made the decision to get ahold of the primatologists who rehabilitated him all those years ago. She asked if she could visit her old gorilla.
She could not contain her excitement. She had no idea that she was about to have a rude awakening.
They Meet Again
Ivanka arranged a safari tour to the area where Koko lived. The guide warned Ivanka repeatedly not to step out of the car as gorillas can be aggressive and violent if they feel threatened.
She hesitantly obliged. When she spotted Koko, though, she couldn’t suppress her joy: she was delighted to see her old furry companion again. She did not care for the guide’s warnings as she approached the gorilla.
Koko didn’t have It
Koko, on the other hand, was not particularly hospitable to Ivanka. It may have loathed her after all those years of being separated from its fellow monkeys and their natural home.
Maybe it didn’t even know her and reacted the same way he would have if another person had approached it. But his retort was ferociously combative.
He Attacked Her!
Koko attempted to seize Ivanka and assault her! Things might have been terribly nasty if the guide hadn’t shot Koko with a tranquilizer dart.
He dashed towards the direction of Ivanka. Fear had paralyzed her. How could her old pet have forgotten who she was? The guide did his best to bring her back to her senses before returning her to the car and driving away.
She Was Devastated
How could that have happened? Ivanka was devastated. How could the sweet, playful animal from her childhood memories have turned into that murderous beast?
Maybe this experience made her reflect on how ethical keeping a baby gorilla as a pet was. Perhaps it didn’t, and she was just left bewildered at what happened, too frightened to be capable of any deeper thought.
Ivanka spent the whole trip to the airport and back home devastated by her experience. She cried for the entire flight, grieving over her shattered childhood memories.
When she arrived back home, she told her dad about what had happened. And he didn’t know what to say. He just hugged her daughter and patted her back while she cried.
Something To Think About
This story certainly brings light to the issue of animal trafficking and how ethical it is to have exotic animals as pets. But some questions still remain. Did this episode make Ivanka and her dad think about the matter? Do you think Ivanka is feeling different now about her happy childhood memories with an ape that was brought out of its natural environment?
And then there are men like Damian Aspinall. He is trying to undo all the harm humankind has done to these majestic animals.
Damian Aspinall had a rather unusual upbringing. His father, John, had founded Howletts Wild Animal Park back in 1957, and this is where young Damian spent most of his childhood. Situated in Kent, England, the park is over 700 acres long and is home to a diverse array of exotic animals.
It was on this estate that Damian claims he formed a special bond with the resident gorillas. In fact, he was practically raised by one.
Howletts Wild Animal Park, established by John Aspinall, was set up when he founded the charity organization, The Aspinall Foundation. He built two zoos in name of wildlife conservation: Port Lympne Wild Animal Park and Howletts Wild Animal Park. Both of these zoos breed endangered and rare animals, such as tigers and gorillas.
One particular project is the raising of orphaned gorillas and releasing them back into their natural habitat, Plateau Bateke National Park in Gabon. When Damian’s father sadly passed away, Damian found himself chairman of the organization. And he had some wild ambitions for his father’s passion project.
Unfortunately, when Damian’s father passed away, there was no money left to keep the parks he had loved so dearly afloat.
With the parks losing around £4m per year – that’s over $5m – the future for the animals who called the park home looked bleak. But Damian worked hard to make his fortune in the world of real estate and ensured that his father’s passion project continued.
His Old Friends
As an adult, Damian wanted to find his old friends, Djalta and Ima — the two male gorillas that he had raised and released back into the wild over a decade ago. For all these years, he had often wondered about what had become of the pair that he had thought of and raised as his own children.
Although this wasn’t the first expedition Damian had lead, it would be his new wife Victoria’s first time visiting the forests of Gabon – and her first time meeting gorillas in the wild. Nobody could have predicted what would happen.
Damian was all too aware that fully grown gorillas – especially male gorillas – can be extremely dangerous. Their strength and unpredictability made them legendary among the Gabon locals. Although he couldn’t wait to see his old friends Djalta and Ima again, he just couldn’t know how they would react.
He hoped that they would remember him, but more importantly, he wondered what they would do when they met his new wife.
Taking A Chance
Putting their fears aside, Victoria and Damian decided to embark upon the journey of a lifetime. Along with a few experts, they chartered a plane and flew out into the wild forests of Gabon. But on their flight, Damian couldn’t shake the growing sense of trepidation that was creeping up on him.
He was aware that the gorillas may not take kindly to Victoria, the newcomer. But he was willing to take that chance.
How To Find Them?
Damian and Victoria had to trudge through difficult mountain paths, take boat rides down the river, and hike through the jungle to reach their destination. Although both Djalta and Ima had GPS locators attached to them, the GPS did not provide their exact location, only an approximation.
Damian released drones with high definition cameras strapped to them to find the elusive animals. As the drones flew up the path and reached a clearing, the team had finally found what they were looking for.
Now Or Never
The gorillas emerged from the undergrowth, startled and confused by the unfamiliar drones buzzing overhead. They cautiously walked directly underneath them to try to ascertain whether the strange devices were a threat or not.
Luckily for Damian, he immediately recognized Djalta and Ima near the riverbank. It was now or never. It was decided that the team would approach slowly from the river.
Gorillas are, by nature, elusive and shy creatures. They will do everything they can to avoid humans at all costs, retreating to the mountains and densely overgrown hilltops. Although they avoid conflict, they can be deadly when they feel threatened.
They were in the gorillas’ domain now — Damian knew that one wrong move could mean disaster. The team had to move slowly to make sure that they didn’t startle the unpredictable animals. But how would they react to Damian and Victoria?
Approaching Them With Respect
When he reached dry land, he walked low to the ground, trying to present as little threat to the gorillas as possible. So far, so good. Then, Djalta and Ima began to make noises, low grunts at first, then gurgles and growls.
Damian knew what these noises meant – they recognized him! After making sure that the gorillas were comfortable with his presence, it was Victoria’s turn.
Victoria slowly approached until she was just a few feet away. Ima the gorilla lumbered over and snatched Victoria’s hat right off her head and placed it on his own – just like a human would! They had accepted her instantly. The hilarious antics were all caught on film and uploaded to YouTube, where Djalta and Ima have since captured the hearts of millions.
The video quickly went viral, and more and more people wanted to know about these majestic creatures and their natural habitat.
Changing People’s Perceptions
By uploading the video of his interactions with Djalta and Ima, Damian hopes to change the most common perceptions of these magnificent creatures. Generally, gorillas are shy animals and will avoid conflict. But, any attacks by gorillas that have occurred are largely due to human error.
If a gorilla feels threatened, they will defend themselves. Damian and Victoria prove that these animals need to be treated with respect and caution.
Gorillas live exclusively in tropical rainforests in Africa. They are divided into two categories – Eastern and Western gorillas. These two species were likely separated from one another during the Ice Age and have developed their own distinct characteristics.
Although gorillas have been known to leave the forest when searching for food, they need the forest to survive.
The gorilla population has been on a steep decline within the last 25 years. The western lowland gorilla’s numbers dropped by a staggering 60% and continues to drop at an alarming rate. This is mostly due to human interference and diseases such as Ebola.
Gorillas are also poached for meat, sport, and trophies. This has lead to all species of gorilla becoming endangered or critically endangered. This is what Damian and other conservationists are trying to change.
Conservationists like Damian are trying to raise awareness of the gorilla’s plight. Damian runs rehabilitation projects for gorillas and other endangered animals, as well as maintaining the two zoos, which costs him around £10m a year (approximately $12.8m).
Now, Victoria shares her husband’s passion. “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,” she said.