Title Image – Tansy Aspinall, as she was then. Image: Aspinall Foundation
This is a story of hope and wonder.
It centres, eventually, upon Tansy Aspinall, the daughter of Damian Aspinall, the renowned conservationist.
The Aspinall Foundation (formerly The John Aspinall Foundation) is an inspiration to many. John Aspinall started the Foundation in 1984 from his home in Kent, South East England. John Aspinall was, as we Brits say, a bit of a character. Born in the Raj, India, expelled from Felsted, educated at Rugby but then missed his final exams at Oxford in favour of a day’s racing at Royal Ascot. He was an inveterate gambler and was a fan of “Chemin de Fer”, favoured by 007, amongst others.
“Aspers”, as he was known, was linked to Sir James Goldsmith with whom he is suspected of harbouring Lord Lucan. He was the founder of several gambling clubs, counting several peers and Cabinet Ministers amongst his clients.
Damian Aspinall with reintroduced Gorillas in Gabon. Image: Aspinall Foundation
In 1956, Aspinall moved into an Eaton Place (Central London) apartment with his first wife. In the back garden, Aspinall built a garden shed housing a capuchin monkey, a 9-week-old tiger, and two Himalayan brown bears.
Today the Aspinall Foundation comprises two zoos at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park and Howletts Wild Animal Park, both in Kent. It also supports a number of conservation projects overseas to protect endangered species. The charity is now run by John’s son, Damian Aspinall.
Northern Chinese Leopard. Image: Aspinall Foundation
The twin zoos have been home, amongst others, to 14 Indian, Siberian and Sumatran tigers.In 2013 the Foundation launched a programme to breed Scottish wildcats, with plans to create a breeding centre on the island of Càrna, off the west coast of Scotland.
The Foundation is most renowned for its work with gorillas. A project for baby gorillas, orphaned by bush meat poachers in the Republic of Congo, was established in the late 1980s. In 1998, a similar project began in the neighbouring state of Gabon. This gave rise to the ‘Project Protection des Gorilles Gabon’ which is based in Franceville, Gabon and seeks to reintroduce gorillas in the Plateau Bateke National Park.
Adult Tiger at Howletts. Image: Andrew Walker
The reintegration of gorillas, born in captivity, back into the wild is not without its critics. Several attempts have, sadly, resulted in the premature death of the primates in Gabon where the animals are ultimately released. Is it not better to have loved and lost?
15 years ago, they released two gorillas, Bimms and Djalta, who were born at the Howletts Animal Park in Kent, back to their natural environment in Gabon. In 2014, Tansy and Damian travelled to where they had been released to see if they could find their old friends.
An Introduction to The Aspinall Foundation:
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