There are people in this world who have the ability to love, nurture and then let go of animals. Most of us are not that kind of person.
We adopt an animal into our homes with the full intention of providing them with a forever home. And that commitment is taken very seriously.
But other people are able to take animals into their homes and lives for short periods of time, all the while knowing that they will one day have to say goodbye.
This happens when people foster animals in need of a forever home, when people are helping to train service dogs and when people work with organizations helping to rehabilitate injured or abandoned animals.
For those people, the love they show to the animals in their care is immense. It is so intense that they are able to let that animal go knowing that the act of letting them go is what is really best for them and for the families they will join.
Damian Aspinall is a conservationist working in the jungles of Africa. He has worked for the Howletts Wild Animal Park for quite some time. One of his duties there was to work with a group of gorillas.
One gorilla in particular melted Aspinall’s heart.
The Aspinall Foundation has been releasing captive gorillas into the wild for about ten years. Kwibi spent his early years with Aspinall at the Howletts Wild Animal Park in England.
Five years ago, Kwibi was successfully reintroduced into the wild. He was set free in the forest of Gabon in a million acre reserve in West Africa.
After years apart, Aspinall went in search of the lowland gorilla that he had not seen in five years. He was five years old when the pair last saw one another.
At ten years of age now, Kwibi is a full grown gorilla, much larger and much stronger than Aspinall. The search for Kwibi and the pair’s reunion could be fraught with danger both from within the jungle and from Kwibi.
Kwibi “can be such a love and a sweetheart but then [snap] you just don’t know what can happen,” said Liz Pearson, a Howletts staff member. Kwibi had reportedly attacked the last two people who had crossed his path.
“I was really determined to see him,” Aspinall said. “I got on the boat with my brother. We went up and down the river for several hours. And I have this call for the gorillas.”
Aspinall and his crew searched and searched for Kwibi. They finally found him. Their reunion was amazing.
“I turned around the corner, and there was this now magnificent, 10-year-old gorilla,” Aspinall said. Kwibi seemed to have recognized Aspinall’s voice and came to the edge of the river to investigate.
Aspinall exited the boat and cautiously approached the gorilla. Kwibi allowed him to approach and sit down next to him. They gently nuzzled one another.
“I wasn’t 100 percent sure. You never know. He is a wild animal now,” Aspinall told the Today Show’s Matt Lauer. “But deep inside you believe that things will be OK.”
“The moment I heard his deep, rough, rumbling gurgle, I knew that I was okay,” Aspinall said.
“He looked in my eyes with such intensity and such love. It was an incredible experience. And we just sat there together sort of drunk on each other. He embraced me like a long lost friend.”
“Right at that moment, everything stopped. The sounds of the forest stopped and the sounds of the river stopped, and I was just captivated in that moment,” Aspinall said.
Kwibi gradually introduced Aspinall to his gorilla family and welcomed him into the fold. He would not let Aspinall go. Aspinall was reportedly more worried at that point about how Kwibi’s family would respond than he was about Kwibi doing anything to hurt him.
But his fears turned out to be unfounded.
Aspinall had to scurry back to the boat when Kwibi left to get some food. Kwibi followed the boat to camp not wanting his time with his old friend to come to an end.
Kwibi stayed on the opposite side of the river from Aspinall’s camp all night long, calling to him.
The next morning, Kwibi was still here. What an amazing bond between man and animal. The love that Aspinall showered onto Kwibi was returned to him tenfold.
After five years apart, Kwibi not only recognized and remembered Aspinall, he remembered the love and care that he had been shown all those years ago.
Kwibi’s acceptance of Aspinall into his gorilla family demonstrates the power of a bond that no one could have imagined, especially after so many years had passed.