The reunion of wildlife conservationist Damian and a gorilla named Kwibi that he helped raised, stands to be the most beautiful human-animal bonding moment captured on film. It reinforces the dwindling belief that man and other living beings may not just co-exist, but even share a relationship based on love and understanding.
As the story goes, Damian Aspinall had been deeply involved in the upkeep of a lowland gorilla Kwibi who was being raised at the Howletts Wild Animal Park in England. He attended to Kwibi till he was five years old and then released him in the Gabon forests in West Africa. This noble act was undertaken as part of a wildlife conservation initiative that aims to re-introduce gorillas to their natural, wild habitat.
Some five years after Kwibi’s release, Damian felt the urge to visit Kwibi – perhaps old memories rekindled his affection for the animal, thus prompting this mission. Liv, the head of this conservation initiative had her reservations about him going ahead with this trip, since the risk factor was high. Not only would Kwibi be much older and stronger than when Damian last saw him, the fact that the gorilla had attacked the last two people he had come in contact with, wasn’t a good sign. Nevertheless, Damian was insisted and Liv finally gave it, unsure of what the outcome of a possible reunion might me. To that extent, even Damian was doubtful; he was convinced that there was no chance of Kwibi remembering him still.
Before chancing upon his old animal friend, Damian and a small crew had to undertake the difficult task of finding Kwibi in the dense forest. They cruised up and down a forest river repeatedly with Damian emitting a call he had used with the gorilla during his upbringing. After several hours of rowing and calling, Kwibi presumably heard the call and emerged from the forest to greet his old, human friend.
It is at this point, Damian confesses, that he got apprehensive about meeting the primate. He prepared himself mentally for the possibility of an attack and dismounted from the boat. When he sat beside Kwibi, the animal began growling which Damian read as a sign of acceptance and recognition. His “rumbling gurgle” reassured him and he fed him a leaf with his mouth. Incredible, isn’t it! Man and gorilla staring at each other, sharing a moment of intense love and affection; who would have imagined such a poetic reunion? And that’s not all. Kwibi introduced Damian to his wife and other mates as well. Once it was Damian’s time to go, Kwibi held on to him in a piggyback-grip, attempting to prevent his departure. It is only when he got hungry and went to fetch some raisins could Damian finally leave!
But Kwibi was not yet satisfied. In a most moving display of love for his former caregiver, he followed the boat back to the campsite, travelling across the banks. He lay in wait all night long, perched on the opposite bank of the river, hoping to see Damian again. His wish did not go unfulfilled for when the latter proceeded to take a dip in the river the next morning, he was surprised and pleased to see Kwib stationed at the river bank for him. Ah, what a feeling it must have been!
It goes without saying that Damian and Kwibi’s bond transcends time, space and circumstances. It is heartening to see that in a world where man has become a threat to everything organic, such healthy inter-species interaction still persists.