Many will be deeply moved by the sight of a toddler beating her chest with tiny fists while a 300lb gorilla lounges alongside her, eating a kiwi fruit. They will laugh as the two toss straw over their heads and gasp when one of the world’s largest primates leans forward to give the little girl a tender peck on the cheek.
Others, however, will be horrified. More than once, the gorilla gathers the girl in her arms, carrying her off as she would one of her young. The bond between the playmates is unmistakable despite the the grainy VHS footage being more than 20 years old.
Dressed in navy jumper and light blue trousers, 18-month-old Tansy Aspinall romps in the sunshine, one minute swaying on a rope swing, the next tumbling down the slide, tummy first, her not-so-little friend behind her. Not-so-little being the operative phrase. For Tansy’s playground is, in fact, an animal pen at Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent and her chums are western lowland gorillas.
Her father, Damian, has now decided to release the family film via The Mail on Sunday and is making it available on YouTube. It is a controversial decision and Damian, 52, is prepared for criticism but remains unrepentant.
‘This is a family video,’ he says. ‘Before I wouldn’t have released it but now, with the internet it is different. I don’t care if I get a bit of stick because I think the gorillas get a good deal out of it. There’s an upside for them that there wasn’t before. If we can show millions of people how gentle and noble and wonderful these animals are, then I think we’re doing the gorillas a service. I’m happy to take the stick for that.’
Tansy, now 23, agrees. She says: ‘I obviously understand that people might find it quite shocking seeing a baby going in with the gorillas because that’s how they have been brought up – to see gorillas in that King Kong kind of way. But really gorillas are such wonderful, gentle animals and they’re so human-like. So I hope it’s a way of people understanding how gentle and kind gorillas really are.’
She was too young to remember the video taken at Howletts, the Palladian mansion that her grandfather, the gambler John Aspinall, bought after a particularly good night at the tables.
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