In 1956, John Aspinall, a charismatic gambling club host, embarked on an extraordinary journey that would lead to the creation of Howletts Zoo. His initial companions in this wild adventure? A capuchin monkey, two Himalayan brown bears, and a mere nine-week-old tiger cub. Inspired by the story of an illegitimate Zulu prince who lived among wild animals, the zoo’s legacy passed to John’s son, Damian.

Growing up at the zoo, Damian formed deep connections with orphaned gorillas. Decades later, Damian, now married to a fellow animal lover, took his wife on a life-changing trip to Gabon to meet his old friends. What followed would shock the world…

Saved his Life

The moment Damian Aspinall laid eyes on Victoria, he sensed destiny at work. Here was a kindred spirit, an ardent animal lover like himself. Damian, a custodian of not one but two zoos teeming with perilous creatures, hoped Victoria comprehended the wild adventure she was signing up for. United by a shared love for nature’s wonders, they dared to plunge into the untamed wilderness of marriage, where danger and beauty danced hand in hand.

The Love Story

After revelling in the joys of their wedded bliss, Damian felt the moment had arrived to unveil a remarkable chapter of his past to his beloved wife. It was time to introduce her to the very gorillas he had nurtured almost a decade ago during his youth. Their destination: Gabon, a picturesque jewel in central Africa’s heart. Victoria’s anticipation brimmed with excitement, eager to finally cross paths with these extraordinary beings.

Howletts Park

But before we dive into the heart of our story, let’s rewind to 1957. In the quaint English village of Littlebourne, the extraordinary Howletts Wild Animal Park emerged from the visionary mind of John Aspinall, Damian’s father. A sprawling canvas of over 700 untamed acres, this sanctuary played host to an astonishing array of creatures—majestic giants of both strength and humility, as well as smaller, fiery denizens of the wild. It was within these untamed borders that Damian forged his profound connection with the natural world, a connection that would shape his destiny in ways he couldn’t yet fathom.

Saved his Life

In a tale that might seem almost unbelievable, Damian found himself entangled in a bewildering encounter with a surrogate gorilla mother during his childhood at his father’s zoo. Picture this: a young Damian, perched high in a tree, his descent seemingly impossible. Just when all seemed lost, it was the gorilla mother who came to his rescue, carrying him safely down on her back. This awe-inspiring moment etched itself into Damian’s very soul, a memory that would continue to captivate his heart and mind well into adulthood.

Strange compassion

This remarkable gorilla possessed an uncanny ability to discern Damian’s heightened emotions, and in response, she unveiled her astonishingly empathetic maternal instincts. As tears welled up in his eyes, the gentle giant extended her massive yet tender hand, delicately brushing away the tears from his face. Damian stood in awe, utterly captivated by this breathtaking demonstration of boundless compassion.