Tansy Aspinall was only 18 months old when her father allowed her to play with a 300lb gorilla named Djalta. Fast-forward 23 years and Tansy was reunited with Djalta. It only took a sniff for the great ape to recognize her old friend and the two embraced each other.
Tansy is the eldest daughter of conservationist Damian Aspinall, who allowed her to play with Djalta and other animals as a child at his Howlett Wild Animal Park in Kent, England. The reunion took place four months ago when the Aspinalls journeyed in a small boat up a river deep into the jungle, in what seemed like a doomed mission to find Djalta and another gorilla, Bims, who also lived at the animal park.
Against all odds, having searched for just a few hours in the tropical heat, Tansy and her father spotted two familiar faces peeking from the dense forest. And even though they had not seen their human friends for more than a decade, the now fully grown male gorillas came out to embrace them.
The greeting ritual also included rubbing noses, sharing kisses and sniffing each other in a deep animal ritual. And as you will see in the images and video that follow, their bond is still strong, which is made even more remarkable by the fact that they hadn’t seen each other for 12 years.
Tansy, who is now 25, has no memories of her first close encounter with a gorilla, when her dad put her into the apes’ pen and captured the moment on camera. When released two years ago, that old video caused a huge public outcry. But Tansy does remember vividly playing with the gorillas, and her trip to the reserve in Gabon that her father’s foundation runs was, in her words, like a happy family reunion. (Scroll down for the video.)
1. The controversial picture of Tansy at 18 months in the gorilla pen at her father’s zoo in Kent.
2. Tansy has no recollection of her first close encounter with a gorilla at Howletts Zoo, owned by her father.
3. After ten years apart, Tansy and Djalta make friends again in the Gabon rainforest.
4. Djalta wanders out of undergrowth to check on the visitors in the boat on the river.
My sister Clary and I often played with Djalta and Bims on the lawn and sometimes we went into the cages with other gorillas. I loved being around them all, but those two guys were really very special to us, like our relatives. I last saw them when I was ten and they were being crated up for the trip to the conservation site in Gabon.
When we set out to find them again I was a little apprehensive at first because I didn’t know if they would remember me after all that time, or if they had become hardened by life and possibly dangerous.
So, it was amazing to see that not only did they know me, but they had such gentle looks on their faces that I felt immediately safe and reassured. At no point did I feel fear. They had some rough and tumble with dad, but were really very gentle with me. Dad greeted them first and made sure it was safe before I got close. He would never let me near an overly aggressive gorilla.
Such an amazing story…
5. After greeting Damian Aspinall, Djalta rubs and sniffs Tansy in a bonding ritual.
6. Tansy and the gorilla enjoy a warm embrace as the pair reacquaint themselves with each other.
7. Tansy and her father Damian, 54, have a shared love for wild animals and have devoted time to saving endangered species.
8. Baby Tansy with her mother Louise and one of the gorillas at the zoo in Kent.
And here is the video of the reunion:
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