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Video: Watch man and gorilla’s amazing reunion

  1. Transcript of: Watch man and gorilla’s amazing reunion

    MATT LAUER, co-host: We're back now at 7:41 with a video that's kind of taking the Internet by storm. It shows the reunion between a man and an old friend in the West African jungle of Gabon five years after they'd last seen each other, and it's a meeting that really has to be seen to be believed. Damian Aspinall has always had a special bond with gorillas . He grew up with them on his family's 90-acre wild animal park in the south of England . On a recent trip to return three baby gorillas to the wild in Africa , the conservationist had a reunion even he wasn't prepared for.

    Mr. DAMIAN ASPINALL (The Aspinall Foundation): I got in the boat with my brother and we went up and down the river for several hours.

    LAUER: Damian was determined to find Kwibi .

    Mr. ASPINALL: I had this call for the gorillas .

    LAUER: A gorilla he reared by hand in England .

    Mr. ASPINALL: I turn around the corner and there was this magnificent now 10-year-old gorilla , and you know, he hadn't seen me for five years, but he'd heard my voice and he came to the edge of the river. And as I sort of clambered over the top, I was a little concerned, but the moment I heard his deep love rumbling gurgle, I knew then that I was OK. He looked into my eyes with such intensity and such love and 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. I mean, it was just beautiful. And he slowly introduced his wives who came to see me and he wouldn't let me go. And he scrambled off to get some raisins and I managed to clamber back in the boat. To my amazement, he then followed the boat all the way back to our camp, and on the other side of the river, he then nested this night. At 6:00 in the morning, I got up for a swim in the river, and you know, there he appeared on the edge of the river. Kwibi is a lovely boy. I can see you . Just shows what a remarkable animal these gorillas are and what a remarkable animal Kwibi is.

    LAUER: Damian Aspinall is with us now. He's the head of the Aspinall Foundation , a wild animal conservation organization. Damian , good morning. What great video.

    Mr. ASPINALL: I know, very special.

    LAUER: It really -- when you first -- you start calling Kwibi , first of all, can you -- can you give me the call? What were you saying? I don't mean to put you on the spot.

    Mr. ASPINALL: Well, you are, but...

    LAUER: OK.

    Mr. ASPINALL: I have a call that -- with animals, come on! Come on! And they hear my call and they respond to that call.

    LAUER: See -- so you see Kwibi , now 10, you hadn't seen him in five years. I think that first step out of the boat would've been the one that makes me nervous because you can't be 100 percent sure of what response you're going to get from a wild animal .

    Mr. ASPINALL: I wasn't 100 percent sure. You never know. He is a wild animal now. But you know, deep inside, you believe that things will be OK.

    LAUER: And you got close and it was clear, you say, as you -- I liked when you say we almost got drunk on each other. You looked in his eyes. You could tell that this was -- there were incredible memories that he had of you.

    Mr. ASPINALL: Well, you know, the moment I heard the gurgle, and the gorillas have a gurgle and it's a very deep love gurgle, the moment I heard that, I knew I'd be OK. And you know, right at that moment, it, you know, everything stopped and the sounds of the leaves in the forest stopped and the sounds of the river stopped and I was just captivated in that moment.

    LAUER: I don't know why this sticks in my mind, Damian , but that gorilla couldn't -- I mean, after five years in the wild, what's the smell of that? That has to be a pungent odor embracing that gorilla .

    Mr. ASPINALL: I have to say, I love the smell of gorilla .

    LAUER: You do.

    Mr. ASPINALL: Always -- I love the smell of them.

    LAUER: Never bothers you.

    Mr. ASPINALL: Never bothers me.

    LAUER: Were you at all worried, not about Kwibi , but that another wild gorilla might not think this reunion was quite so heartwarming and do something?

    Mr. ASPINALL: That's actually correct. I was far more worried that one of the wives would be protective over Kwibi .

    LAUER: You grew up with these animals.

    Mr. ASPINALL: I did.

    LAUER: We mentioned your father had this incredible place in England . From what I understand, as a baby, you were actually placed in the -- in the arms -- in the hands of a female gorilla . It was almost a rite of passage in your family.

    Mr. ASPINALL: That's correct. I was -- I was brought up with gorillas . In fact, I was brought up with lots of animals. I had -- when I was a little boy , all the animals lived in the house with us, and I'd open my bedroom door and tigers and gorillas and wolves would all jump on the bed.

    LAUER: And it's something that you've carried on with your own family.

    Mr. ASPINALL: I have. I take my young children in and my daughters in with the gorillas .

    LAUER: How hard was it to leave? When you have this reunion, you -- no one knows more about these animals than you do, so you know they are wild animals , and the whole purpose is to return them to the wild, but still, it has to be hard not knowing when you'll get to see or if you'll get to see this particular gorilla again.

    Mr. ASPINALL: Well, you know, I go to Gabon three or four times a year, so I'm always hopeful I can see him. But it's no different to -- if you go and see a friend of yours in another country and you meet and you have a reunion and then you have to go on your separate lives again. And, you know, I always feel I'll see him again.

    LAUER: Is it safe, though, for this gorilla to become so familiar with you again? Are there threats to him and the other gorillas if he gets too comfortable around human beings ?

    Mr. ASPINALL: He's familiar with me, but not familiar with other human beings , which is the way it should be.

    LAUER: I mention you run this wildlife organization. What do you want people to know about Kwibi and other gorillas ?

    Mr. ASPINALL: Well, look, you know, I hope that when people see this, that they'll realize that, you know, animals deserve their chance and it just shows how gentle gorillas can be. And I think, you know, we have a responsibility to this Earth and I think we can, as a species, do so much more for this planet and I believe that and we're trying to do a little bit of that.

    LAUER: So you want people not -- to see this, perhaps on this show or YouTube not to look at this as just a cute video, you'd like it to be thought provoking as well.

    Mr. ASPINALL: I would hope so. I mean, I would hope it would lead the way and people can, you know, really maybe begin to make a change.

    LAUER: Well, it's amazing stuff. Damian Aspinall , Damian , it's nice to meet you.

TODAY contributor
updated 5/21/2010 6:55:55 PM ET 2010-05-21T22:55:55

Two years ago, a lion’s loving reunion in the African wild with the two men who had raised him in London was a YouTube sensation. Now there’s a new animal star in town, and his name is Kwibi the gorilla.

You may have seen the video by now. A tall and aristocratic-looking Englishman rides a boat down a river in the African jungle hoping to find the gorilla he left there five years earlier.

In a deep voice, the man calls out, “C’mon! C’mon!” Finally, he sees his old friend on the riverbank. The man clambers out of the boat and up the bank. He sits in the undergrowth and Kwibi the gorilla greets him gently with caresses, sniffs, nose-rubs and hugs. The two gurgle at one another as the man chews on a leaf and then gives it to the gorilla.

Much as the “hugging” lion called Christian did, Kwibi the gorilla introduces his friend to his wives and children. When the man finally leaves, Kwibi follows his boat down the river and sleeps across from the man’s camp. In the morning, Kwibi is still there.

Friday morning, Damian Aspinall, the man in the video, came to New York to tell TODAY’s Matt Lauer the back story behind the wildly popular video.

A gorilla’s gurgle
The first thing Lauer asked was whether Aspinall was scared at all. After all, gorillas are wary of humans, enormously powerful, and potentially dangerous.

And even though Aspinall had raised Kwibi from infancy at his zoo in the south of England, for the past five years the 10-year-old male had been living in the wild in a jungle preserve in Gabon. There was no guarantee Kwibi would remember Aspinall or, if he did, welcome him into his territory.

“I wasn’t 100 percent sure. You never know. He is a wild animal now,” Aspinall said. “But deep inside you believe that things will be OK.”

When he heard Kwibe the gorilla’s distinctive love gurgle, Damian Aspinall knew their reunion would be a happy one.
Aspinall knew that for sure when he heard a certain sound that Kwibi made.

“The moment I heard the gurgle — gorillas have a gurgle, and it’s a very deep love gurgle — I knew that I’d be OK,” Aspinall recalled. “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. He looked in my eyes with such intensity and such love.”

But the danger wasn’t over. There was still the chance that Kwibi’s wives would not be as welcoming to this total stranger.

“I was far more worried that one of the wives would be protective of Kwibi,” Aspinall admitted.

Unconventional upbringing
Lauer couldn’t help but wonder what a gorilla smells like after five years without a shower and shampoo and guessed that it must be ripe.

“I love the smell of a gorilla,” Aspinall said. “It never bothers me.”

It’s a smell he grew up with on his father’s estate in Kent in the south of England.

The animals that roamed young Damian Aspinall’s estate gave him the love he didn’t receive from his parents.
By all accounts, Damian Aspinall did not have the perfect set of doting parents. His father, John Aspinall, divorced his mother when Damian was 6 and told the boy never to have anything to do with her. John Aspinall determined early on that Damian, the eldest of his three children, was thick-headed and not worth his attention. After shipping the lad off to boarding school, the father had little to do with Damian until he grew up and made his first million pounds, with no help from the family fortune.

Damian got the emotional support he didn’t get from his parents from the animals that lived on the estate. The property is now a zoo, but when Aspinall was a child, wild and sometimes dangerous creatures roamed the house and the grounds freely.

“When I was a little boy, all the animals lived in the house with us,” he told Lauer. “I’d open my bedroom door, and tigers and gorillas and wolves would all jump on the bed.”

Slideshow: A lion’s tale

When he was an infant, Aspinall’s father put him in the hands of a female gorilla. The gorilla inspected him and showed off the new member of the family. As an adult, Aspinall has done the same with his own three daughters.

A multimillionaire who could be the real-life version of the “world’s most interesting man” of the Dos Equis beer ads, Aspinall runs the conservation organization his father started, the Aspinall Foundation, to breed gorillas and return them to the wild. He runs two wild animal parks in Kent, Howletts and Port Lympne, where 120 gorillas have been born and 77 of the great apes now live. In all, the foundation has returned 51 gorillas to protected areas of the African jungle.

But Kwibi was special, as anyone who has watched the reunion video can attest.

Video: Lion’s owners on final farewell

The two Australians who raised Christian the lion before returning him to the wild saw Christian twice in Africa before Christian disappeared forever. Aspinall has hopes that he’ll see Kwibi again.

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“I go to Gabon three or four times a year, so I’m always hopeful I can see him. But it’s no different than if you go to see a friend of yours in another country, and you meet and you have a reunion, and then you go on your separate lives again,” he said.

A responsibilty to the Earth
Lauer asked if it’s not dangerous for Kwibi to be so friendly to humans, not all of whom are as nice to gorillas as Aspinall is. Aspinall said that’s not a problem.

Video: Lion reunion is YouTube hit “He’s familiar with me but not familiar with other human beings, which is the way it should be,” the conservationist explained.

The reunion took place two years ago and was shown on a British television show. Aspinall hopes that it inspires people to become involved in conservation efforts.

“I hope that when people see this they’ll realize that animals deserve their chance, and it just shows how gentle gorillas can be,” Aspinall said. “I think we have a responsibility to this earth, and I think we as a species can do so much more for this planet. I believe that and we’re trying to do a little bit of that.”

For more information about the Aspinall Foundation, click here. And to learn more about the foundation’s online animal adoption program, click here.

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