||26 August 2012 07:00
60 Minutes - Australia
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
Michael Usher: "Damian Aspinall is on a very special mission, deep in the African jungle. This is no easy expedition - it's like searching for a needle in a haystack. Damian is trying to locate a gorilla called Kwibi, who he hand-raised in England and released into the wilds of Gabon five years ago."
Damian: "He was a very, very sweet gorilla - one of the first gorillas we took back to the Gabon and released back into the wild. I wasn't quite sure how he was going to react, he'd attacked the last couple of human contacts that he'd come across. So he was considered dangerous."
Michael: "But after days of searching, a familiar face appears from dense jungle canopy."
Damian: "Look how handsome you are! When I found him and, you know, jumped out of the boat and onto the side of the river, half of me was thinking, was this going to go wrong?"
Michael: "Damian briefs his team to distract Kwibi if he turns hostile."
Damian: "Throw food if it kicks off - seriously, throw food but throw it away from us, not near us.
Michael: "But what happens next is the most tender of reunions."
Damian: "I knew as I got onto the riverbank and I heard his - gorillas have a deep love gurgle - I knew then that I was okay."
Michael: "A love gurgle?"
Damian: "Yep, it was extraordinary really, it was one of the great moments of my life, and he embraced me and um was talking to me all the time. All the time he was talking to me. And it was fine. I was actually a bit more worried when he started introducing me to his wives, because some of them are wild, caught, and they don't know me."
Michael: "He thoroughly embraced you."
Damian: "He did, yeah, and didn't want me to go."
Michael: "Like an old friend."
Damian: "Yeah - very, very sweet. And it was actually very difficult leaving him. H-he didn't want me to leave. Someone better get me a sleeping bag!"
Michael: "To understand this unique bond Damian Aspinall has formed with Kwibi, you need to understand his unique childhood. His father, John, was an eccentric gambler who opened a string of casinos in the 60s, and turned the family's English manor into a free-range zoo. Young Damian was literally raised with wild animals, and especially the family's gorillas."
Damian: "Sounds odd for most people, but it is - there were just gorillas in the house, tigers in the house and wolves in the house. It was completely ordinary. I didn't find it strange at all."
Michael: "And today, Damian has not just inherited but expanded what his father started - Are these fairly docile? They don't take your finger off or anything do they? - As I discovered trying to get our interview underway. Damian I think we have been replaced. This is you in lemur form and this is me in lemur."
Damian: "They are both better looking."
Michael: "Would you like to interview Damian? It's pretty obvious this is no ordinary zoo, and Damian Aspinall is no ordinary zookeeper. In fact, he's the most unlikely of animal activists."
Damian: "They need, I guess for want of a better word, an ambassador to protect them and look after their interests. There is enough people looking after human interests and I don't think there is enough people looking after the interests of animals, so I feel very passionate that I have to fight for them and protect want I think is rightfully theirs."
Michael: "Damian has established a groundbreaking program which he calls 'gorilla school' - the mission - to teach these captive gorillas, born and bred in the English countryside - to live wild and free in Africa. And watching Damian work and play with some of the most powerful animals on Earth is quite amazing. Gorillas this size could kill a man in seconds, but to Damian Aspinall, they're friends. They're incredibly strong and powerful animals aren't they?"
Damian: "Oh Yeah. Yeah. You could put five Mike Tysons with one silverback, they wouldn't stand a chance. They could snap your arm like a twig, like a toothpick."
Michael: "From his casino millions, he funds the Aspinall Foundation, which breeds more gorillas then any other program in the world, on this large estate in the English countryside which looks more like an African wildlife sanctuary."
Damian: "Also a variety of diet is terribly important - in the wild they have about 140 different types of food, and we give our Gorillas about 130 different types of food."
Michael: "He has more then 80 gorillas on the estate, and would love for them all to be free in Africa, but that is a slow and carefully controlled process."
Damian: "We protect 1.2 million acres of wilderness in Africa. We have re-introduced 53 Gorillas back into the wild, and they have had 18 off spring. It all looks easy now but actually it was very difficult and took a long time to do."
Michael: "But he also saves dozens of other critically endangered animals, like the clouded leopard - with a particular nice fondness for the taste of cameraman?"
Damian: "What can we extract, what would you pay us now not to get a bite?"
Michael: "They're certainly not tamed pets, but Damian is comfortable getting up close and personal. How rare are these in the wild?"
Damian: "Oh, these are very rare. These are, you know, critically endangered animals."
Michael: "Hello hello, good lick of the ear?"
Damian: "This is when he took the ear off the last presenter, about this point."
Michael: "I'm okay here, right? That's crazy."
Damian: "It's rough, isn't it?"
Michael: "I have a cloudy leopard on my back."
Michael: "He's okay?"
Damian: "Yeah, you are fine."
Michael: "Isn't this amazing, isn't this amazing? And then there is Ambam, the six foot silverback who walks and looks like - well - one of us! Ambam became a star when he was caught on camera, walking upright. When you look into a gorilla's face, do you see the similarities? When you look into their eyes, between us and them?"
Damian: "A mean gorilla can have a mean face and a kind gorilla can have a kind face, just as you see with humans."
Michael: "But the zoo's unique ways have come at a cost, with five keepers killed, and several other workers and tourists severely injured. Looks like they are ready for you now, have fun in there, we'll see you through the fence. These days human interaction with animals is heavily restricted, but the rules don't apply to Damian. he believes that contact is important."
Damian: "You have to get to that level of trust with a wild animal - where they would absolutely never mean to harm you - because they consider you part of their tribe or their family. But there's absolutely no way they'd ever want to harm me. They'd protect me."
Michael: "That very unique bond is no greater than with Kwibi. Back in the jungle there was more to that remarkable reunion between Damian and his favourite gorilla - Kwibi did not want Damian to leave."
Damian: "And then when I did go, he followed the boat all the way back to camp, and then he nested the other side of my hut on the other side of the river and he waited all morning. And he was calling me in the night."
Michael: "And the very next morning Kwibi was still there, nestled in the riverbank."
Damian: "Kwibi, who is a lovely boy then? I can see you! It's very touching that, isn't it?"
Michael: "Incredibly touching."
Damian: "You know, it's not easy to get that sort of depth of friendship with a human relationship, let alone an animal."
Michael: "That's a very, very deep bond, it was obvious."
Damian: "It is. I mean and I, you know, I consider the bond I have, not just with the gorillas, but a lot of the animals here - but obviously particularly the gorillas - as good as any bond, or better than any bond with humans."
Michael: "Because of that bond, and thanks to Damian, these gorillas have a future - whether living wild in the African sanctuary, or a ripe old age on his English estate."
Damian: "They're so smart and beautiful, and their strength is so obvious and they're so restrained in their strength, you know? They could be such bullies, but they're not. I don't think I could live my life without being surrounded by these animals."
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