The daughter of the owner of one of Britain’s leading wildlife parks says zoos should be closed down because they are effectively putting animals in lockdown for life.
Freya Aspinall, a wildlife campaigner and model, called on people to stop visiting zoos and said she would like to see them closed down permanently.
The 20-year-old daughter of Damian Aspinall, the leading conservationist who chairs The Aspinall Foundation said: “I think the public just needs to be told first and then they can make up their mind. And if they still want to go to the zoo, then that’s up to them, but I have a feeling they won’t.”
Freya, whose mother is TV presenter Donna Air, made her comments on Sunday as part of National Gorilla Day, while helping to rewild a group of gorillas saved from slaughter. The primates were raised at her family’s Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent, before being relocated to their ancestral homeland in Congo.
She added: “I think there will be a huge business actually for a new type of technology in zoos, where you can have holograms or some technology (to replace them), moving forward. The closest thing I would say, is we hated lockdown. Humans hated lockdown and these animals are in permanent lockdown.”
Freya said other zoos and animal parks were not embracing forward-thinking technology sufficiently because it was “too much hard work”, adding: “It’s very unconventional the way we want to put ourselves out of business”.
She also strongly condemned trophy hunting, stating: ‘I don’t have a problem eating meat. I don’t have a problem with people using leather. I think you can care about animals and still eat meat.
‘But with trophy hunting, you want to slaughter and skin a lion because you want to help the wild? That makes no sense at all. I think that’s absolutely outrageous, to be honest.’
She said if people cared about animals they should donate money to help conservation efforts.
Her 63-year-old father is also known for his family’s eponymous foundation, set up to breed gorillas and return them to the wild. Carrie Johnson was hired by the foundation as head of communications in 2021.
The Aspinalls’ gorilla protection campaign is working with local wildlife organisations to stop the rapid decline of critically endangered western lowland gorillas, whose numbers have declined by 60 per cent in the past 20-25 years.
They have rewilded over 70 critically endangered western lowland gorillas, which continue to thrive in their sanctuary and have been successfully breeding since then.
The campaign has also seen over 600 animals rescued and rewilded, including elephants, cheetahs, rhinos, gibbons, hyenas, lions, crocodiles among other species.
Freya is the only daughter of Damian and Donna. Donna was 21 when she met multimillionaire Aspinall, who was 40 at the time.
They were introduced at a dinner party in 2000 by their mutual friend, the late socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, and went on to have a seven-year relationship.
The couple hit the headlines when Freya was a baby, announcing they were planning to place their daughter in a gorilla enclosure at Damian’s animal park and allow her to be carried off by the female of the group.
It was a ritual Damian had carried out with his first two daughters, Tansy and Clary from his 15-year marriage to Louise Sebag-Montefiore.
Damian has carried on the legacy of his late father, John Aspinall, who encouraged close contact between animals and keepers at Kent park Howletts and its sister site, Port Lympne.
John, who was a close friend of Lord Lucan, bought Howletts with his gambling winnings in 1956 and moved his family there from central London.
Following his father’s death, Damian has managed the parks through the John Aspinall Foundation, a charity named after his father.
Freya has also entered the family business, with Damian and Donna backing their daughter’s decision to follow him into conservation.