"I hope people who see this will ... take an interest in the work that we're doing at the Aspinall Foundation, and help gorillas in the wild," British animal park owner and conservationist Damian Aspinall intones over sun-flooded footage of his daughter Tansy -- a toddler at the time the video was shot -- interacting with gorillas in a straw-filled enclosure.
But much of the attention surrounding the 20-year-old video of Aspinall's daughter that was posted on YouTube last week has dealt, not with the lives of gorillas in the wild, but with the question of whether or not letting a child play with gorillas is safe.
ABC News reported that Aspinall "was afraid to release the video before for fear of backlash," and 85 percent of voters in a Today Show poll said they considered Aspinall's actions to be "irresponsible parenting."
The video's introductory text explains Aspinall's goal in releasing the footage: "Damian Aspinall shows his complete trust in man's closest cousins when he introduces his daughter Tansy aged 18 months to a group of critically endangered western lowland gorillas at Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent. Now The Aspinall Foundation needs help in returning that trust by funding the process of sending gorillas safely home to their natural habitats in the wild." Aspinall's dedication to releasing animals from captivity is well-documented.
Tansy herself told Good Morning America on Monday that she wasn't frightened of the gorillas at the time: "I don’t remember specifically that video, but I definitely remember going in with the animals and just loving being around them. It was like playing with another brother or sister, really." Her father added in the same GMA segment that the encounter wasn't dangerous because "if you're brought up with the gorillas and you're part of the family group, it's not risky at all."
It's not the first time Aspinall has discussed introducing his children to gorillas. The following is from a 2003 profile of Aspinall in London's Evening Standard:
Within the next few weeks ... he will give [his daughter, Freya] to the gorillas. ... "I did this with my other daughters, now it's Freya's turn." That's very trusting of him, I say. He looks startled. "But why would I not trust them?" he says. "I know them. I grew up with them. They are my friends."
The Daily Mail later reported that Aspinall was ultimately "warned off" introducing Freya to the animals "by the police and social services." (Another piece published in the Daily Mail in 2010 shows a picture of Aspinall himself with a gorilla as a young boy.)