This past Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a story profiling controversial conservationist and animal activist Damian Aspinall and his quest to close all zoos and release all animals back to the wild.
Correspondent Lesley Stahl’s piece posed the question of whether or not endangered animals born and bred in captivity be released into the wild?
Stahl followed Aspinall’s effort to release nine of the zoo-born silverback gorillas in his care at his sprawling estate in England to the wilds of Gabon in Africa.
Tara Stoinski, president of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, cautioned:
“I think that humans have a very romantic notion of what the wild is like, and the wild is not a place where it is safe, and animals get to roam free and make choices. They have to find food, they have to avoid predators, they have to find mates. And then you add on top of that all of the challenges that humans are imposing, whether it be hunting, habitat loss, disease. I think the challenges that these wild populations are facing are huge.Aspinall bought a million acres of forest in Gabon and turned it into a national park. The nine gorillas were ship and released to an island area where they could acclimate to the new surroundings and be protected from wild gorillas and other predators.
As the 60 Minutes crew filmed, Aspinall’s team completed a bridge to the unprotected portion of the forest. They then lured all nine gorillas, including a baby gorilla, across the bridge with food.
What followed is exactly what Stoinski warned may happen.
From Stahl’s report:
“If only we could end on an optimistic note. But we can’t. A month after the gorillas crossed the bridge, Damian’s team found all five adult females dead, including Tamki – as well as baby Akou. An outcome so many of Damian’s critics predicted.”
“Damian’s best guess is that a wild male silverback attacked the family: killing some on the spot, others dying from injury, infections or stress.
Aspinall called the tragic deaths he was responsible for “a hell of a setback” and said he was determined to send more gorillas back to the wild.
The horrifying and unnecessary death of 5 amazing and beautiful animals is not “a hell of a setback” unless you are an extremist hell bent of validating your radical dogma.
The rest of the world will remember the truth when PETA and their friends claim the wild is a sweet place for animals to frolic.